U.S. On Track For Most Measles Cases In A Decade

ATLANTA (AP) — The United States seems to be on track to have more measles cases than any year in more than a decade, with virtually all cases linked to other countries, including Europe where there’s a big outbreak.

Already there have been 89 cases reported so far. The U.S. normally sees only about 50 cases of measles in a year thanks to vaccinations.

Health officials are reluctant to make predictions, but acknowledge the pace of reports is unusually hot.

“It’s hard to say, but we’re certainly getting a lot,” said Dr. Greg Wallace, who leads the measles, mumps, rubella and polio team at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Europe, especially France, has been hit hard by measles, with more than 6,500 cases reported in 33 nations. International health officials are blaming it on the failure to vaccinate all children.

Just about all U.S. outbreaks were sparked by people bringing it here from other countries. This week, international health officials posted an alert urging travelers everywhere to get the recommended two doses of vaccine before flying overseas.

“The risk of getting infection is very high,” said Dr. Cuauhtemoc Ruiz Matus, an immunization expert with the Pan American Health Organization.

In the U.S., the worst year for measles in the last decade was 2008, when 140 cases were reported. There have been no measles deaths this year, but health officials warn the disease can be dangerous.

Measles is highly contagious and up to 90 percent of people exposed to an infected person get sick, experts say. The virus spreads easily through the air, and in closed rooms, infected droplets can linger for up to two hours after the sick person leaves.

“Measles is really the most contagious of the vaccine-preventable diseases. It has a knack for finding those who have not been vaccinated,” Wallace said.

The disease’s most common symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough, eye inflammation and rash all over the body. It takes about two weeks for the rash to appear from the time of first infection, and people are contagious from four days before a rash to four days after.

A small fraction of people get much sicker, developing pneumonia or even encephalitis. For every 1,000 children who get measles in developed nations, one or two will die.

Since 2003, there have been no measles-related deaths reported in the United States, where children have been getting vaccinated against the virus for almost 50 years. Before the vaccine, nearly all children got measles by their 15th birthday and epidemics cycled through the nation every two to three years — generally peaking in the late winter or spring.

In those days, about 450 to 500 Americans died from measles each year, on average. Vaccination campaigns reduced the toll dramatically, and today, roughly 90 percent of U.S. kids are protected from measles, according to studies of teenagers.

Two doses of a measles-mumps-rubella vaccine are routinely recommended for all children, including a first dose given around a child’s first birthday and a second dose around the time of preschool. These vaccinations are believed to last for a lifetime.

Children as young as six months old can get a first dose if they’re going to a country where they are at high risk of exposure, health officials say.

“Unfortunately, that’s not always done. Parents often don’t report to their physician that they are taking their child on an international trip,” said Dr. Harry Keyserling, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at the Emory University School of Medicine.

One dose is considered 95 percent effective, two doses even better. But health officials acknowledge it’s not perfect and a few people who are fully vaccinated will still get sick.

Of the 89 cases reported through the end of last week, 79 were people who were unvaccinated or who had no documentation of it, Wallace said.

Outbreaks so far this year have included:

–In Florida, five cases linked to an international helicopter trade show held in Orlando last month, and another three cases in an outbreak in the Gainesville area traced to a traveler who had been to India.

–Nine cases in Utah, reported last month. They were linked to someone who apparently was infected in Poland.

–Twenty-one cases in Minnesota, first reported in February. The illnesses were traced to a Minneapolis-areas child who developed symptoms after returning from a trip to Kenya.

–Six cases in Pennsylvania, first reported in January, origin unknown.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • PLS

    Any people who refuse to have their childeren innoculated for preventable diseaases, the child should be deported immediately. Parents can chose not to have their children be innoculated, but that child can not live in the US. Make it easy for them and us. Why make everything so difficult? The easier the stance and solution, the cheaper it is. These vaccinations would be requirements to obtain and maintain a US passport, to enter this country as a visitor, etc.

  • Sarah in Outstate MN

    I’ve been to many countries. To gain entry in some countries you must show a vaccination card by the WHO proving you’ve been vaccinated. Mine is yellow. I don’t know if all of them are or not, but mine is yellow.

    If I am suppose to show my vaccination card into certain countries, why doesn’t the US require vaccination into our borders? We have so many people from different countries moving here or visiting that this would make sense.

    For those people who believe the MMR vaccination causes autism: please be aware that Dr. Andrew Wakefield is currently on trial in the UK for medical fraud. His “study” was fake.

  • Sam

    My son is an unvaccinated US citizen and he has every right to be here. For those that are so naive to think that vaccines are safe; do a little research and you will see that things aren’t always as they appear. There are very few doctors that will tell you the whole story because most want their bonus from the pharm companies. I have personally witnessed the horrible things that can happen to a child after being vaccinated.

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