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CDC: U.S. measles cases at 15-year high in 2011

Mother nursing sick child at home, measles, rash iStockphoto

(CBS/AP) Health officials say last year was the worst year for measles in the U.S. in 15 years.

There were 222 cases of measles reported. Most of the cases were imported -- either by visiting foreigners or by U.S. residents who picked up the virus overseas.

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The disease had made recent headlines across the world. Just in February 2012, a person with measles attended Super Bowl XLVI, prompting officials to issue a warning to those in attendance, according to HealthPop.

Health official say outbreaks in the U.S. have been fueled by low vaccination rates in Europe and elsewhere. In 2011, Europe reported more than 26,000 measles cases and nine deaths -- three times the amount of cases seen in 2007 according to the World Health Organization, HealthPop reported.

There were no deaths in the U.S. but about a third of the people were hospitalized. At least two-thirds of the Americans who got the measles hadn't been vaccinated.

A study conducted in 2011 and published in Pediatrics showed that more than 10 percent of parents reject recommended vaccines for their children, according to HealthPop. That has led some pediatricians to take the controversial step of "firing" patients, citing fears unvaccinated children could infect other children in the waiting room.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the report Thursday. In a typical year, there are 50 to 60 cases of measles. The previous worst year was 1996, with 508 cases.

Measles is highly contagious. The virus spreads easily through the air, and in closed rooms, and infected droplets can linger for up to two hours after a sick person leaves.

Symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough and a rash all over the body. In rare cases, measles can be deadly, and is particularly dangerous for children. Infection can also cause pregnant women to have a miscarriage or premature birth.

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