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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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But, Frieden pointed out, "We have seen a spike this year with 175 cases and counting. Nine outbreaks, including three large ones -- New York City, North Carolina and Texas, and 20 hospitalized cases."

All of the U.S. outbreaks were tied to people who brought back measles from overseas. Most of those sickened weren't vaccinated, Frieden added.

Speaking at the press conference, Hinman said: "It's nice to be worrying about 175 cases. It's a mark of progress, but it also shows how much further we have to go. Measles is so infectious that before a vaccine was available essentially every child in the United States had measles before the age of 15. That means every year, on average, there were 4 million cases."

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.

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