Measles cases in the U.S. highest in 15 years

There were 118 infections between Jan. 1 and May 20, the most to occur during that period since 1996.

By Christine S. Moyer — Posted June 6, 2011

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Due to an uptick in measles cases in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging physicians to be vigilant about identifying the illness in their patients.

Doctors should consider the respiratory disease as a diagnosis in patients who have a febrile rash illness, a cough, coryza or conjunctivitis, said Greg Wallace, MD, MPH, lead of the CDC's Measles, Mumps, Rubella and Polio Team. He recommends that physicians isolate such patients to prevent transmission of the virus, notify public health departments of a possible measles case and test the individual.

"Measles is probably the most contagious of the vaccine-preventable diseases," Dr. Wallace said. "The rates of complications and deaths have been low [in the U.S.] ... but if the virus gets into one of those communities [where people are not vaccinated against the disease] it can spread."

There were 118 reported cases of measles from Jan. 1 through May 20, according to the May 27 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. That is the greatest number of cases to occur during a similar period since 1996. In that year, there were 301 cases reported from Jan. 1 through May 31.

Eighty-nine percent of the cases this year stemmed from infections acquired outside the U.S. in places such as Europe and Southeast Asia, where measles is prevalent, the CDC said. The source of the remaining cases could not be identified, but experts think those cases also were related to diseases contracted abroad.

"From a U.S. standpoint, it's certainly concerning. It's a warning sign of how easily measles can return," Dr. Wallace said.

Impact of vaccine

Before the measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, about 48,000 Americans were hospitalized due to the disease each year, and as many as 500 died, the CDC said.

The MMWR report found that of the 118 measles cases reported so far this year, 47 people were hospitalized, and there were no deaths. Measles cases were reported in 23 states.

The largest outbreak occurred in Minnesota, where 23 cases were reported as of April 27, according to the state's Dept. of Health. A majority of the people infected nationwide were not immunized against the disease, the CDC said.

The CDC recommends that physicians administer the first dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to children age 12 to 15 months. The second dose should be given when a child is between age 4 and 6. Doctors can, however, administer the immunization to children as young as six months who are going to travel to countries where measles is prevalent.

For adults with no evidence of measles immunity, one dose of MMR vaccine is recommended. If adults are in a high-risk group, which includes health care personnel, they should receive two doses.

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External links

"Measles -- United States, January-May 20, 2011," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 27 (link)

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