updated 3/21/2011 12:50:13 PM ET 2011-03-21T16:50:13

State health officials have confirmed six cases of juvenile measles this month in Hennepin County and caution more could be on the way in areas where parents have been reluctant to vaccinate their kids.

The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed the fifth and sixth cases on Friday. Three of the kids are from the Somali community, where some parents have been afraid to immunize their children over fears of the vaccine's safety.

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Health officials are racing to ease those fears and persuade parents to get their kids vaccinated.

"Contrary to misinformation that may still be circulating, the measles vaccine is safe and effective. Without it, the risk of disease is real," said Dr. Edward Ehlinger, the commissioner of the state health department. "Children can die from measles."

The health department first reported two weeks ago that it was investigating a case of measles in a Minneapolis infant. It reported three more cases Thursday and two more Friday.

Buddy Ferguson, a health department spokesman, said the six cases in Hennepin County are among children between 9 months and 4 years old. Three were unvaccinated, and two were too young to be vaccinated, he said.

While the measles vaccine is safe, faulty scientific research that has since been debunked alleged there was a link between the vaccine and autism.

Idil Abdul, the co-founder of the Somali American Autism Foundation in Minneapolis, said the misinformation led to fears that have become ingrained in the Somali community.

"Yes, measles is bad. Nobody wants measles. Nobody wants malaria, and certainly nobody wants autism," she said. What's frustrating, though, is there's no known cause of autism, and "it's not something you want to gamble on," she added.

Because a number of parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children, it's possible that more measles cases can surface, state epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield said. She said four of the six children were hospitalized, and all are now recovering.

Children are usually given the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella at 12 months of age, followed by a booster shot three to five years later. Because of the outbreak, the health department is now recommending that children get the booster shot only four weeks after the first one to increase their immunity, Lynfield said.

Symptoms of measles, which include a rash, fever and loss of appetite, usually appear eight to 12 days after exposure to airborne infectious droplets. The rash usually lasts five to six days.

Measles is still a dangerous epidemic worldwide, affecting 10 million people and killing nearly 200,000 people a year. However, it's been nearly eradicated in the U.S. Government statistics show that more than 441,000 cases of measles were reported in the U.S. 50 years ago. In 2008, there were 140 reported cases.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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