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Measles Still a Threat, U.S. Health Officials Warn

Sporadic outbreaks caused by travelers to countries without vaccination programs, doctors say

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Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the division of infectious diseases and director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said: "Because we don't see much measles, and we haven't seen measles deaths in this country for years, that doesn't mean it's not just right around the corner.

"People think measles is not a big deal and they're wrong," he added. "Not only have we largely eliminated measles, we have eliminated the memory of measles, and so we don't realize how sick measles can make you."

Hinman said he was concerned about parents who don't have their children vaccinated for religious or other reasons. "Particularly clusters of people who reject vaccinations, which leads to localized outbreaks when measles is imported into the United States," he said.

Like smallpox, measles can be eliminated, but only if the vast majority of a population is vaccinated. Since 2001, the CDC and other agencies have vaccinated 1.1 billion children around the world. These efforts have prevented 10 million deaths -- one-fifth of all deaths prevented by modern medicine, according to the CDC.

Since measles vaccination began 50 years ago, at least 30 million children worldwide have survived who otherwise would have died from the disease, Frieden said.

Around the world, however, measles still takes an enormous toll in lives, said Dr. Peter Strebel, who's with the World Health Organization.

"Despite progress, measles remains a formidable enemy," he said, citing recent large outbreaks in Nigeria, Pakistan, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Many countries lack the resources to combat the problem, Strebel said. And according to the CDC, only one in five countries can quickly detect, respond to or prevent health threats caused by emerging infections.

Strengthening surveillance and lab systems, training disease detectives and increasing the ability to investigate disease outbreaks would make the world -- and the United States -- safer, the CDC said.

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