A new study revealed that one in every eight children in the United States is at risk of contracting measles, as an outbreak of the highly infectious virus is looming over the country. Once untreated, the disease can result to encephalitis, pneumonia, hospitalization, or even death.

A group of experts from Emory University say that over 9 million children are susceptible to the disease, mostly because the number of unvaccinated children in the country is still high. Those who are unvaccinated and under-vaccinated may acquire the disease through direct contact or droplets in the air.

The study, which is based on data released by the National Immunization Survey-Teen, discovered that three-year-olds and younger are most susceptible to the disease, and that nearly 5 percent of 17-year-olds are unvaccinated.

Researchers say that the disease can be prevented if between 92 and 95 percent of children are vaccinated.

Professor Robert Bednarczyk, lead author of the study, cautioned that despite eliminating continuous transition of the disease in the country in 2000 due to the effectiveness of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, health officials still should not get complacent.

"While we currently have overall immunity in the population that should prevent sustained measles transmission, if the virus is introduced, there is the potential for large outbreaks," said Bednarczyk.

Most children fail to receive the immunization because parents are not aware of the need for vaccines or are against vaccination, while other children do not have access to health centers.

Some children are also still too young to receive vaccination, while some children cannot be vaccinated due to a medical condition that prevents their immune system from responding to the MMR shot. Infants under 6 months old have some level of protection from their mother's antibodies, the study says.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained that the recommended immunization for children include one MMR shot taken between ages of 12 and 15 months and a second booster shot between ages of 4 or 6 years.

This year, over 189 cases of measles were recorded in 18 states, and most of these cases occurred when a larger outbreak began in Disneyland in January.

Dr. Matthew Zahn, medical director of epidemiology at Orange County Health Care Agency, said that it was frustrating to see children get admitted to hospitals with a disease that is highly-preventable.

"It is sobering to recognize that one exposure event can cause so many public health ripples around the country," he added.

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