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Measles is surging throughout the world. The World Health Organization is reporting that cases have nearly quadrupled in the first few months of this year. And U.S. public health officials say 555 cases have been confirmed nationwide. NPR's Patti Neighmond reports.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: So far, measles has been confirmed in 20 states. Pediatrician Amanda Cohn, adviser on vaccines with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says cases of the disease are accelerating fast.
AMANDA COHN: We are on track to have one of the highest numbers of cases of measles reported since we eliminated measles in the year 2000.
NEIGHMOND: But more and more parents are opting out of vaccinating their child for religious or personal reasons, and more people are traveling to countries where measles is common.
COHN: Countries such as Israel, the Ukraine, Philippines. When people go to those countries and are exposed to measles and they weren't vaccinated, they then travel back from that country to the United States...
NEIGHMOND: Bringing with them the extremely contagious virus.
COHN: If there's a hundred people in the room who have not been vaccinated, 90 people who were just exposed in a room will develop measles.
NEIGHMOND: Measles spreads when people cough or sneeze. Droplets of the virus can survive in the air for a couple of hours. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, calls measles an extremely vile infection that can pose great danger for children who are not vaccinated and come down with the disease. They become miserably ill for a week and a half, he says, and many can suffer severe complications.
WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: You can get middle ear infection - otitis media - pneumonia, which can be life-threatening. And worst of all, one in every thousand children will develop encephalitis.
NEIGHMOND: Where the virus travels to the brain and can inflame brain tissue.
SCHAFFNER: This can lead, obviously, to deaths. And some children who recover are left with permanent disabilities.
NEIGHMOND: The best protection, says CDC pediatrician Dr. Amanda Cohn - vaccination.
COHN: If your child has gotten vaccinated with two doses of measles vaccine, your child is highly protected, and you do not need to be worried about measles in your community.
NEIGHMOND: Public health authorities in the U.S. and around the world want to make sure that accurate information about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine is readily available to parents and that parents get their children vaccinated. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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