Public health officials are reporting outbreaks of measles in California and New York City that have infected more than 70 people.
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A once eradicated disease resurges
The highly contagious infection begins as a fever, runny nose, cough, and pink eye, then progresses to a rash on the face that quickly spreads to the entire body. Serious complications like pneumonia and encephalitis occur in about 20% of cases.
In 2000, the disease was deemed essentially eradicated in the United States thanks to immunizations that prevented the childhood disease from spreading. According to CDC, the country saw only about 60 annual cases of measles in the subsequent years, and most of the cases are contracted outside of the country.
However, a recent resurgence in measles has been largely attributed to parents who refuse to get their children vaccinated against it. In 2011, 222 individuals reported measles infections to the CDC in one of the largest measles outbreaks of the 21st century. Last year, 159 cases were reported to the health agency.
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Outbreaks spark public health concerns
As of March 28, 49 cases of measles had been reported in California this year. By comparison, just four cases were reported in the state by the same time last year. Orange County is struggling with the largest outbreak, with 21 confirmed cases.
Meanwhile, at least 21 cases of measles had been reported in New York City as of early last week. Ten of those cases were in children, and most of those children were too young to be vaccinated.
According to the New York Times, investigators for the city health department are trying to determine whether some of the measles cases were spread at health facilities because of workers' failure to recognize the symptoms and immediately quarantine patients.
"We know a number of people were exposed and possibly got their infection either at a doctor's office or at an emergency room where they went and it took more time than it should have for them to be put in an isolation area where they couldn't possibly infect anyone else," says Jay Varma, the department's deputy commissioner for disease control (Mercogliano, PIX11, 3/26; Hartocollis, New York Times, 3/18; Muse, NBC Philadelphia, 3/26; Do, Los Angeles Times, 3/28; Jaslow, CBS News, 3/26).
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