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At least 141 people have been diagnosed with measles so far this year, 113 of them directly linked to an outbreak that started at Disneyland in California, federal health officials said Tuesday.
And the U.S. is exporting cases — at least 10 to Canada, as well as several to Mexico.
The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show cases in 17 states and Washington, D.C. These aren’t all the cases — the number doesn’t include an infant who Georgia state officials said was diagnosed with measles.
“It could be a difficult year,” the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat told NBC News. Last year was the worst year for measles in the U.S. in 20 years, with 644 cases. They’re all imported from other countries where measles isn’t under control — often Europe or Asia. But the virus can spread to unvaccinated or under-vaccinated people.
“It could be a difficult year."
“Analysis by CDC scientists shows that the measles virus in this outbreak is identical to the virus type that caused the large measles outbreak in the Philippines in 2014,” the CDC says on its website.
“However, the same virus type has been identified within the past six months in 14 other countries and at least six U.S. states not associated with the current outbreak.”
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This outbreak is linked to clusters of families that have deliberately delayed or refused to vaccinate children, CDC says. But an outbreak in the Chicago area that’s sickened 14 includes babies too young to have been vaccinated who all got infected at a suburban daycare center. That one’s not been linked, yet, to the Disneyland outbreak.
Perhaps because of the association with the extremely popular amusement park, the outbreak has triggered a national debate on what to do about parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids, or who ask to modify the recommended vaccination schedule.
“We really want people to be thinking about measles."
“It is very helpful that people are thinking about this and hearing about this,” Schuchat said. “We really want people to be thinking about measles."
That’s in no small part because measles, which is the most infectious virus known, can start out looking like a cold or the flu. By the time patients develop the characteristic rash, they could have infected many others.
CDC recommends that everyone who can be vaccinated against measles get two shots of the combined measles mumps and rubella vaccine. Most school districts require that kids have their shots in order to be enrolled, but different states have different policies on who may opt out and for what reason —medical, religious or just personal preference.
“We are trying to strengthen the information we provide,” Schuchat said. CDC posted a new infographic for parents of young children.