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Measles Journey Points Up Risk to Unvaccinated Kids

Minnesota outbreak began with a toddler traveling overseas, study says

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"These outbreaks occur in all types of settings," said Pavia, who was not involved in the current study.

U.S. measles cases are at a 20-year high this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week. As of May 30, the agency had received reports of 334 measles cases in 18 states.

Nearly all of the outbreaks involved unvaccinated people who brought measles back after a trip overseas, the CDC said.

The hardest-hit state is Ohio, where people in several Amish communities were infected after unvaccinated missionaries traveled to the Philippines and carried the measles virus back.

Amish communities have historically had low vaccination rates. And a 2011 survey of Amish parents who refused to vaccinate found that nearly all cited safety fears.

According to Pavia, the safety concerns of parents in the Minnesota outbreak illustrate the "power of bad information."

The MMR-autism link proposed by Wakefield was later found to be based on fraudulent data, and many studies since have found no connection between the vaccine and autism.

"Wakefield has been thoroughly debunked," Pavia said.

Gahr noted that these days, most parents never had or even saw a case of the measles. So some might dismiss it as just another childhood infection, she said.

But measles can prove serious, or even deadly. About 30 percent of people with measles develop a complication such as ear infection, diarrhea or pneumonia, the CDC says. Among children, one in 1,000 suffers brain inflammation, and one or two out of every 1,000 die.

"Even if you don't develop complications," Pavia said, "the disease is miserable."

Measles typically begins with a fever, cough, runny nose and "pink eye." After several days, a rash emerges around the face and neck, then spreads to the rest of the body.

"The thing is, we have the power to prevent it," Pavia said.

In the case of the Minnesota outbreak, he added, "the first infection that spread in the community was misinformation. The second was measles."

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