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U.S. Measles Cases Highest in 15 Years, Largest Outbreak in New York City

Sep 12, 2013 11:04 PM EDT
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Measles was declared "eliminated" from the U.S. in 2000, but this year is slated to have the most reported cases of the disease in over a decade, according to new numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the 2012 National Immunization Survey, vaccination for many diseases remains at or above 90 percent among children aged 19 months to 35 months. Measles symptoms include rash, high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes.

"The vast majority of parents are vaccinating their children against potentially serious diseases," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

"The high vaccine coverage we are seeing explains why most vaccine-preventable diseases are at record-low levels."

To date, there are already 159 reported cases of measles with 65 cases in New York (mostly in New York City), 23 in North Carolina and 20 in Texas. The largest outbreak occurred in March among Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, N.Y., after an unvaccinated teenager infected with measles returned from visiting Britain, according to NPR. That was the largest measles outbreak in the United States since 1996.

"Clusters of people with like-minded beliefs leading them to forgo vaccines can leave them susceptible to outbreaks when measles is imported from elsewhere," Dr. Schuchat said during a teleconference. "This is an extraordinarily contagious virus."

Thirty-six percent of patients were younger than 5 years, and 11 percent younger than 1 year -- too young to be vaccinated. No deaths have been reported this year, Schuchat noted. This is a surge from the average reported cases of 60 per year since 2000.

"The increase in measles cases in the United States in 2013 serves as a reminder that imported measles cases can result in large outbreaks, particularly if introduced into areas with pockets of unvaccinated persons," researchers wrote.

The CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which was published Sept. 13, noted the vaccination rate among children born between 2009 and May 2011 for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) was nearly 91 percent; for polio, about 93 percent; and for hepatitis B and varicella/chickenpox, about 90 percent.

Vaccination rates were lower for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP), at 83 percent; the full series of Haemophilus influenzae (Hib), at 81 percent; and four doses of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), at less than 82 percent.

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