updated 8/12/2004 7:18:03 PM ET 2004-08-12T23:18:03

Measles cases are at the lowest levels in nearly a century, the government said Thursday.

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There were only 216 cases of the virus in the three years from 2001-03, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. The 44 cases recorded in 2002 represented the lowest number since the disease became nationally reportable in 1912.

Although there were more than 55,000 cases between 1989 and 1991, vaccinations and other public health efforts helped the CDC declare in 2000 that measles could no longer be naturally found in the United States.

“The United States has a good surveillance system and I think we are picking up almost every case,” said Dr. Gustavo Dayan, CDC medical epidemiologist.

Now when measles cases are found in this country, they typically can be traced to people who have recently been in Europe and Asia, where the disease still is present, the CDC said.

Nearly 100 cases were imported into the United States between 2001 and 2003.

The CDC says measles shots in this country are still a must.

Measles can cause pneumonia, diarrhea, encephalitis and death in people who are not immunized. Most people in the United States are immune because of vaccinations. Before vaccinations became common in 1963, there were between 3 million and 4 million cases and 450 deaths annually in the United States.

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