The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported today that the number of measles cases in the U.S. is at its highest level in 15 years. The increase is believed to be due to falling vaccination rates in Europe, with Americans catching the highly contagious disease from Europeans or during travel.
Measles is highly contagious. The virus spreads easily through the air, and in closed rooms, infected droplets can linger for up to two hours after the sick person leaves.
It causes a fever, runny nose, cough and a rash all over the body. In rare cases, measles can be deadly, and is particularly dangerous for children. Infection can also cause pregnant women to have a miscarriage or premature birth.
No measles deaths were reported in the U.S. last year; the last one occurred in 2003. But about a third of the 2011 cases were hospitalized, and one child was touch-and-go for about a week before finally recovering, one CDC official said.
Officials traced 200 of last year's 222 cases to measles in another country, said Schuchat, director of the CDC's Office of Infectious Diseases. The largest outbreak was in the Minneapolis area where 21 cases were traced to a child who got sick after a trip to Kenya.
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