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U.S. hit by largest measles outbreak since 2001

| Friday, May 2, 2008

WASHINGTON -- The biggest U.S. outbreak of measles since 2001 is unfolding in 10 states, with at least 72 people from infants to the elderly becoming ill -- most of them unvaccinated, U.S. health officials said Thursday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said none who caught the highly contagious viral illness has died, but at least 14 people have been hospitalized, most with pneumonia triggered by measles.

There were 116 cases in 2001, and the last major U.S. outbreak occurred from 1989 to 1991, when 55,000 people got measles, and 123 died.

Anne Schuchat, who heads the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said she expects "many more cases this year than we had in 2001 based on what's going on today."

Public health officials have been stressing the importance of immunizing children in the face of increasingly vocal groups who object to vaccines for religious reasons or because they think the shots may cause autism or other problems.

CDC officials said overwhelming scientific evidence points to the safety of the combined measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, shot and other childhood vaccines.

"We are concerned ... about the population of people who are choosing not to be vaccinated, and whether we may be on the verge of facing larger-scale outbreaks in the United States," said Jane Seward of the CDC's division of viral diseases.

The CDC said most of the measles cases can be traced to 10 people who picked up the disease overseas and then traveled back to the United States, where others became infected. The ages of those sickened ranged from 5 months to 71 years.

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