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Measles Outbreak Highlights Importance Of Immunizations

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by Amy Spangler
May 12, 2008

If you thought childhood diseases had been eradicated by the discovery of disease specific vaccines, think again.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from January 1 through April 25, 2008 there were 64 confirmed cases of measles in the U.S. Cases have been reported in nine states, and outbreaks are ongoing in four—Wisconsin, Arizona, Michigan, and New York.

Most of the cases occurred in unvaccinated individuals—13 of them were infants under 12 months of age (too young to be vaccinated routinely), seven were toddlers ages 12­­–15 months (not yet vaccinated), and 21 cases were among children ages 16 months to 19 years. Ten of the most recent cases were acquired outside the U.S. The greatest risk is from unvaccinated individuals who transmit measles to others (including infants too young to be vaccinated).

Even though the widespread transmission of measles was stopped in the U.S. in 2000, the disease is still common in other parts of the world and can be imported into the U.S. from other countries, including countries in Europe. In 2005 alone, 311,000 children under 5 years of age died from measles.

The measles vaccine is administered as a combination vaccine that provides protection against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). Concerns have been raised about the safety of the MMR vaccine and possible links with autism. But despite exhaustive investigation, those concerns have not been substantiated. Public health officials are rightly concerned that unproven fears will cause parents to avoid the MMR and other vaccines, resulting in an increase in infectious disease among U.S. children.

The CDC currently recommends that all children receive two doses of the MMR vaccine. The first dose should be given at 12–15 months of age and the second dose at 4–6 years of age. Adults born during or after 1957 should receive at least one dose of vaccine unless they have documented evidence of measles immunity (a blood test or a physician’s diagnosis of measles). Two doses are recommended for all international travelers, health care personnel, and students at secondary and post-secondary educational facilities. Infants 6–11 months of age should receive one dose prior to travel abroad.

If you have questions or concerns about the use of vaccines, please talk with your child’s health care provider. For more information see the May 1, 2008 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report or the CDC’s Measles Vaccination page.