Measles has infected 129 people in 13 states so far this year, the most in the first four months of any year since 1996, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. They warned clinicians, parents and others to watch for the potentially deadly virus.
Thirty-four of the cases were imported via travel to other countries, including 17 from the Philippines, where a huge outbreak has affected 20,000 people and caused 69 deaths, Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said Thursday.
The United States has had no measles deaths reported from the outbreak, and none since 2003. One or two of every 1,000 cases of measles are fatal, according to the CDC.
California, with 58 cases, has been hit hardest by one of the 13 separate outbreaks of measles in the United States. New York has seen 24 infections, and Washington state has had 13.
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease that generally affects young children, causing fever, a runny nose, a cough and a distinctive rash all over the body. About one in 10 children also gets an ear infection and one in 20 comes down with pneumonia. A person with measles is contagious as long as four days before the symptoms are apparent, Schuchat said. Parents and even physicians who haven't seen measles in years may be unaware of the early warning signs, she said.
In the past 20 years, a concerted public health campaign, especially among lower-income families, has made measles outbreaks rare. The disease has been considered eradicated since 2000. But today, the number of unvaccinated children has begun to become a problem, Schuchat said. Some people are choosing not to have their children immunized for personal reasons, and others are unaware of, or unable to get, vaccinations, before they arrive in the United States.
CDC director Thomas Frieden lauded the Vaccines for Children program started in 1994, after a measles outbreak from 1989 to 1991 resulted in 55,000 cases. But "we can't let our successes result in complacency," he said.