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Measles threatening a comeback in U.S.

ATLANTA — Federal health officials warned Thursday that the United States could be on the verge of a major outbreak of measles, a viral disease that had been declared wiped out in this country in 2000.

The official tally of measles cases between Jan. 1 and April 25 was 64, the highest number in six years, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Another eight were reported this week among members of a single family who attended a religious conference in Washington state, the CDC said.

While the numbers seem small, two developments could set the stage for a major resurgence in this country: an increase in the numbers of people choosing not to get vaccinated and ongoing outbreaks of the disease in Israel and Europe, CDC officials said.

Among the confirmed cases were an unvaccinated health care worker who was infected in a hospital and 17 people who were infected while visiting a health care facility, including a 12-month-old child exposed in a physician's office.

U.S. residents accounted for 59 of the 64 cases. The largest concentration of cases has been in New York City, with 22 cases. Arizona has had 15, California 12, and Michigan and Wisconsin have each had four. Hawaii, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia and upstate New York also reported cases.

In the outbreaks so far this year, two-thirds of children old enough to be immunized were not vaccinated because of family personal or religious beliefs, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Health officials increasingly are seeing clusters of children whose parents are choosing not to vaccinate them, she said.

The worst year for measles was 1958, say modern public health records. More than 763,000 cases were reported that year, including 552 deaths.

About the disease

Measles is caused by a virus that normally grows in cells that line the back of the throat and the lungs. It spreads through contact with a sneezing, coughing, infected person. Symptoms include rash, high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. About one in five measles sufferers experience more severe illness that can include diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, encephalitis and even seizures and death.

>>FAST FACTS

About the disease

Measles is caused by a virus that normally grows in cells that line the back of the throat and the lungs. It spreads through contact with a sneezing, coughing, infected person. Symptoms include rash, high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. About one in five measles sufferers experience more severe illness that can include diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, encephalitis and even seizures and death.

Measles threatening a comeback in U.S. 05/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 1:29pm]
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