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Measles cases in U.S. at 20-year record high

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The U.S. appeared to have won its battle against measles when it eliminated the disease in the country in 2000 but measles is back and it's more prevalent than ever.

In the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) published on May 29, health experts from the Division of Viral Disease of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases reported that while the U.S. has virtually eliminated measles since the viral disease was officially declared eliminated nearly 15 years ago, measles continued to occur globally with about 20 million cases occurring worldwide per year.

The occurrence of the disease in other parts of the world has apparently led to the importation of measles in the U.S. which resulted in the contraction of the disease by unvaccinated individuals. The CDC report says that from Jan. 1 to May 23 this year, 288 measles cases have already been reported in the U.S.

The reported number of measles cases for the first five months of the year is the highest so far in 20 years, with nearly all of the cases linked with international travel by unvaccinated individuals.

"The current increase in measles cases is being driven by unvaccinated people, primarily U.S. residents, who got measles in other countries, brought the virus back to the United States and spread to others in communities where many people are not vaccinated," said National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases Director Anne Schuchat.

Schuchat said that as many as 97 percent of those affected were unvaccinated and the disease appeared to have been contracted following travel overseas particularly in the Philippines, which already has over 32,000 measles cases and 41 measles-related deaths this year alone.

"Because measles remains endemic in countries in five out of the six WHO regions of the world, the source of imported cases could be any country where measles continues to circulate," the CDC researchers wrote. "This underscores the importance of ensuring age-appropriate vaccination for all persons before international travel to any region of the world."

The biggest measles clusters in the U.S. are in Ohio with 138 affected individuals, California with 60 confirmed cases and New York with 26 measles cases. Other states with confirmed cases of measles include Alabama, Connecticut, Missouri, New Jersey, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Washington.

Unvaccinated individuals particularly children are vulnerable to measles, a highly contagious disease characterized by rashes, red eyes and fever. The viral disease can cause inflammation of the brain and deafness in children.

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