Lack of immunization direct line to measles increase: CDC

Measles is still under control in the United States, but to keep it so, people need to get immunized, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention insists.

If you are not immunized, you are putting others at risk for measles, the CDC says.

Many people view measles as an inconvenient childhood disease. However, measles is a highly contagious viral disease that can cause serious complications and death. And, it is on the rise in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Measles elimination—defined by the CDC as “absence of year round transmission”—was declared in 2000. However, the CDC reports, measles continues to be imported into the United States from countries where measles is still common. During 2011, 222 measles cases and 17 measles outbreaks were reported to CDC, an increase compared with cases and outbreaks during 2001-2010. Of the 222 cases, 200 (90 percent) were associated with importations and 112 (50 percent) were associated with outbreaks.

The CDC is reminding the public that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is considered highly effective in preventing measles. Among the 2011 cases, the CDC said in its report on measles, 86 percent were unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status; 85 percent of U.S. residents in the report with unknown or unvaccinated status were eligible for MMR vaccination.

“People need to be up-to-date on MMR and other vaccinations, including when they are preparing to travel internationally to any destination,” the CDC indicated in a release. “Unvaccinated people place themselves and others in their communities at risk for measles and its complications.”

Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDCs National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, encourages people to have their children immunized against measles, and for adults to check on their immunization status and, if warranted, have a booster.

“There's a lot of things we like to bring back when we travel,” Dr. Schuchat said in a teleconference on Thursday. “Photographs, local crafts, but last year many U.S. travelers brought back more than they had bargained for. They returned to our country with measles. Similarly, we had many international visitors to the U.S. who brought the disease along with them. Unfortunately, these people cross paths with susceptible, unimmunized people in several communities across the country. And the results that we reported in today's MMWR are that in 2011, we had the most number of reported measles cases in the United States in 15 years.”

The very high immunization rates in the U.S. led to the measles elimination declaration in 2000, Dr. Schuchat explained. But, with about 20 million people getting measles each year worldwide, and approximately 164,000 dying from the disease, it is imperative, she indicated, that immunizations continue.

“Now, in the U.S., we are fortunate to benefit from very high levels of vaccination coverage,” Dr. Schuchat said. “More than 90 percent of the country's children have been vaccinated against measles. But measles is extremely infectious, and it's very good as a virus in finding those few people who aren't immunized or protected. Some people are too young to be vaccinated and can't be protected. And others may have not gotten around to getting vaccinated yet or may have actually refused or declined to be vaccinated.”

Still, she said, the 2011 measles outbreaks were contained, and did not re-establish transmission in the United States. But, she stressed again that being vaccinated is key.

“Unvaccinated people put themselves and other people at risk for measles, and its complications. They particularly put at risk people who are too young to be vaccinated, who can sometimes have the worst complications from measles.”

Next week, Dr. Schuchat added, is National Infant Immunization Week, and it is a good time for everyone to consider checking on whether or not their immunizations are up-to-date, or if a booster is needed.

“This is an exciting expansion of what started 18 years ago with the first national infant immunization week,” she said, “a real chance to remind ourselves of the lives saved and family health that's protected through immunization.”

For more information about this week’s MMWR report from the CDC, and for information on National Infant Immunization Week, visit the CDC website.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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