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U.S. measles cases highest in 15 years

In a Thursday report from the Centers for Disease control, the number of measles cases has grown from an average of 60 cases a year to 222 cases in 2011. NBC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

By Rachael Rettner

The number of measles cases and outbreaks spiked last year, with unvaccinated people making up the majority of those affected, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2011, there were 222 cases of measles in the United States. That's the highest number reported measles cases in the united states in 15 years, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of CDC's Office of Infectious Diseases, speaking to reporters today.

The number is also more than triple the number of cases in 2009 and 2010, according to the report.

About half of the 2011 cases occurred during outbreaks, which are defined as at least three cases that are linked to each other. Last year, there were 17 measles outbreaks, well above the average of four for the previous decade.

Among patients who were U.S. residents, 72 percent of cases developed in people who had not received the measles vaccination, or had unknown vaccination history, despite being eligible for the vaccine. (Twenty-six cases occurred in people living outside the U.S.)

Fifty patients were children between 16 months and 19 years old who had not been vaccinated for philosophic or religious reasons or personal objections, the report says.

Since 2000, measles has been considered eliminated in the United States. The disease occurs here mostly when people become infected after traveling to other countries and transmit the disease to others upon their return. Indeed, 90 percent of the cases in 2011 had their origins in other countries, including 52 U.S. citizens who became ill after traveling abroad.

"The increase in measles importations and outbreaks during 2011 serves as a reminder that measles remains endemic in many parts of the world and unvaccinated U.S. residents continue to place themselves and others in their communities at risk for measles and its complications," the report says.

In 2011, more than 30,000 cases of measles were reported in European countries, with France, Italy, Romania, Spain and Germany having the majority of cases.

The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is recommended for all children ages 12 to 15 months, with a booster shot at age 4 to 6 years. Children as young as 6 months can recieve the vaccine if there are plans for the family to travel abraod. Adults should be vaccinated if they did not recieve the vaccine when they were younger.

A sharp rise in measles cases in England and Wales have increased fears of an epidemic. Health officials are reminding parents of the importance of inoculations. They are also appealing to young adults to make sure they are fully immunized. ITN's Martha Fairlie reports.