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U.S. Measles Cases at 20-Year High

Almost all infections involve unvaccinated residents who traveled abroad, CDC says
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Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease. According to the CDC, it begins with a fever that lasts for several days, followed by a cough, runny nose and conjunctivitis (pink eye). A rash emerges on the face and upper neck, and spreads down the back and trunk, then stretches to the arms and hands and finally the legs and feet.

While the symptoms are unpleasant, the complications of measles can be dangerous. An estimated 6 percent to 20 percent of those who contract the disease will get an ear infection, diarrhea or even pneumonia. One out of 1,000 people will develop brain inflammation and about one out of 1,000 will die.

Anyone not vaccinated is at risk, the CDC says, especially if they travel abroad. Measles is still common in much of the world, including countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Pacific. It's estimated that 20 million people worldwide get measles each year and 122,000 die from the disease.

Measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000. But, that's been a blessing and a curse, Schuchat said. "Many U.S. health-care providers have never seen or treated a patient with measles because of the nation's robust vaccination efforts and our rapid response to outbreaks," she said.

If a health-care provider suspects that a patient has measles, they should immediately isolate the patient to help prevent the disease from spreading, immediately report the case to their local health department and collect specimens for blood and viral testing, the CDC said.

Infants and young children are at high risk of a serious case of measles, according to the CDC. The agency recommends two doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine for everyone starting at 12 months of age. For those traveling abroad, the CDC urges that all U.S. residents older than 6 months receive the MMR vaccine.

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