More measles cases have been reported in the United States since January 1, 2008 than during the same period in any year since 1996, according to a report recently released in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Between January 1 and July 31, 2008, 131 cases were reported to CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). In contrast, 66 cases were reported during all of 2006 and only 37 were reported during 2004.

“These cases resulted primarily from failure to vaccinate, many because of philosophical or religious belief,” said Dr. Schuchat. “The vaccine against measles is highly effective in preventing infections, and high immunization levels in the community are effective at preventing or drastically decreasing the size of outbreaks.”

Measles is consistently one of the first diseases to reappear when immunization coverage rates fall. If individuals refuse to vaccinate themselves or their children, it could lead to large-scale outbreaks in the U.S.

In the decade before the measles vaccination program began, an estimated 3 to 4 million persons in the United States were infected each year. Of these, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and another 1,000 developed chronic disability from measles encephalitis.

“Measles can be a severe, life-threatening illness,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of NCIRD. “These cases and outbreaks serve as a reminder that measles can and still does occur in the United States.”

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