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Measles on Upswing Despite Vaccine

Vaccination has saved thousands of lives, report says, but outbreaks occurring as some people opt out

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, April 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Vaccinations have prevented an estimated 732,000 deaths, 21 million hospitalizations and 322 million illnesses among U.S. children born in the last 20 years, according to a government report released Thursday.

Despite this success, measles -- a highly contagious disease -- is seeing a recurrence in the United States, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported.

As of April 18, 129 people have been diagnosed with measles in outbreaks in 13 states this year. Most of the people sickened were not vaccinated, the CDC says.

Although these outbreaks start outside the country, measles infection spreads rapidly among unvaccinated people, CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said during an early afternoon press briefing.

"Measles is still far too common in many parts of the world," he said. "Globally, an estimated 20 million people get measles and 122,000 die from the disease each year."

Twenty years ago, the Vaccines for Children program was launched, providing free vaccines for families who can't afford to pay for them.

The program was a direct response to a measles outbreak that sickened more than 50,000 people and killed more than 100. This happened despite the availability of a measles vaccine since 1963, Frieden said.

"This was a wake-up call and it impressed upon me how infectious measles is, because a single undiagnosed case in a hospital could result in dozens of secondary cases," he explained.

The program also saves money, Frieden said. Fewer hospitalizations and more lives saved will cut nearly $295 billion in direct costs and $1.38 trillion in total societal costs, estimates indicate.

The report was published in the April 25 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, who also spoke at the news conference, said, "Measles has gotten off to an early and active start this year."

The 129 measles cases reported so far "are the most measles cases reported in the first four months of the year since 1996," she said.

In 2013, there were 189 measles cases. In 2011, 220 people had measles -- the most since 1996, according to the CDC.

"Today's measles outbreaks are too often the result of people opting out. Most of the people, 84 percent of those who were reported to have measles thus far, were not vaccinated or didn't know their vaccination status. Of the unvaccinated U.S. residents, 68 percent had personal belief exemptions," Schuchat said.

Areas with the highest number of cases include California with 58, New York City with 24 and Washington state with 13, Schuchat said. Thirty-four of all the cases were imported, involving U.S. residents who traveled overseas and foreign visitors. Half of those importations were from the Philippines, where there were about 20,000 cases and 69 deaths as of February, she said.

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