ATLANTA — Last year was the worst year for measles in the United States in 15 years, health officials said Thursday.
There were 222 cases of measles, a large jump from the 60 or so seen in a typical year. Most of the cases last year were imported — either by foreign visitors or by U.S. residents who picked up the virus overseas.
U.S. children have been getting vaccinated against the measles for about 50 years. But low vaccination rates in Europe and other places resulted in large outbreaks overseas last year.
So far this year, 27 U.S. cases have been reported. It's too early to gauge whether 2012 will be as bad as last year, but with large international events like the London Olympics coming up, health officials are urging everyone — particularly international travelers — to make sure they're fully vaccinated.
"For those of you traveling abroad, bring back memories and not measles," said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Generally, Americans who got measles last year were not vaccinated. At least two-thirds of the U.S. cases fell into that category, including 50 children whose parents had philosophical, religious or medical exemptions to skip school vaccinations required by most states, CDC officials said.
Measles is highly contagious. 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.
It causes a fever, runny nose, cough and a rash all over the body. In rare cases, measles can be deadly, and it is particularly dangerous for children. Infection can also cause pregnant women to have a miscarriage or premature birth.
No U.S. measles deaths were reported last year; the last one occurred in 2003. But about a third of cases were hospitalized.