In April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 222 measles cases in the United States during 2011. That's a 15-year high and more than triple the number of measles cases typically reported in the United States. Fortunately, there were no deaths reported from the measles, although about half of those who developed the measles required hospitalization.
Of the 222 cases of measles seen last year in the U.S., 200 could be traced to importation from another country. That means that the case was either acquired when the person was travelling abroad, or that a foreign visitor brought the disease with them when they traveled to America. Diseases like measles, although rare in the U.S. today, have not been eradicated.
With worldwide travel now so common, the disease can easily be imported back into the United States. Communicable diseases are just a plane ride away. Measles is acquired via respiratory exposure, and you may even be exposed after the infected person has already left the room (or airport lounge, or plane).
The majority of measles cases in the U.S. were seen in unvaccinated people, many of whom had "declined vaccination." The measles vaccine is given as the MMR vaccine (mumps, measles, rubella), which is routinely recommended to be given at 1 year of age, with a booster dose given between the ages of 4-6 years.
With the huge increase in measles in Europe, this brings to mind summer travel. If you or any of your family is planning a trip abroad, make sure that you've immunized your children. For those taking a baby to Europe (or other areas with measles outbreaks), check with your pediatrician about giving an early dose of MMR (prior to 1st birthday) and then receiving MMR again on the regular schedule once your child is older.
Some of the measles cases reported in the U.S occurred after the Super Bowl in January and were also traced to foreign importation. The upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics is another venue where people from all over the world will be congregating.
Exposure to communicable diseases is always of concern with events like the Olympics, and returning with measles rather than sweet memories is not what anyone wants! Be sure your children's immunizations are up to date.
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.)