Federal health officials warned yesterday that the U.S. could be on the verge of a major outbreak of measles, a viral disease that had been declared wiped out in this country in 2000.
The official tally of measles cases between Jan. 1 and April 25 totaled 64, the highest number in six years, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Another eight were reported earlier this week among members of a single family who attended a religious conference in Washington state, the CDC said.
While the numbers seem small, two developments could set the stage for a major resurgence in this country: an increase in the numbers of people choosing not to get vaccinated and outbreaks of the disease in Israel and Europe, CDC officials said.
"I think the principal difference this year is the extent of outbreaks in Europe, in places where there's frequent travel back and forth and where travelers don't necessarily take the same kind of travel precautions they do when they're traveling to other locations," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
"The second factor is... we are in a very different era right now where many doctors, nurses and parents are not familiar with measles, where people can seek medical care for something and transmission can occur because we don't take all the precautions that we would have."
Among the confirmed cases were an unvaccinated health care worker who was infected in a hospital and 17 people who were infected while visiting a health care facility, including a 12-month-old child exposed in a physician's office.
U.S. residents accounted for 59 of the 64 cases.
Officials believe all but 10 of the cases were either acquired overseas or linked to a chain of transmission that originated in another country.
The CDC also said 63 patients either had not been vaccinated or had a vaccination status that was unknown.
No deaths have been reported, but 14 people have been hospitalized.
Measles is spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Cases have been reported in nine states, including Illinois, and outbreaks continue in four others: Wisconsin, Arizona, Michigan and New York.
Maryland health officials said that there have been no measles cases reported here this year or in 2007.
There have been only four cases in Maryland since 2003.
Deborah L. Shelton writes for the Chicago Tribune.