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Jump in measles outbreaks worries officials

Atlanta_The number of measles cases in the U.S. is at its highest level since 1997, and nearly half of those involve children whose parents rejected vaccination, government health officials reported Thursday.

The number of cases is still small, just 131, but that's just for the first seven months of the year and doctors are troubled by the trend. There were only 42 cases for all of last year.

"We're seeing a lot more spread. That is concerning to us," said Dr. Jane Seward, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pediatricians are frustrated, saying they are having to spend more time convincing parents the shot is safe.

"This year, we certainly have had parents asking more questions," said Dr. Ari Brown, an Austin, Texas, physician who is a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The CDC's review found that a number of cases involved home-schooled children not required to have the vaccines.

Measles, best known for a red skin rash, is a potentially deadly, highly infectious virus that spreads through contact with a sneezing, coughing, infected person.

It is no longer endemic to the United States, but every year some Americans pick it up while traveling abroad and bring it home. Measles epidemics have exploded in Israel, Switzerland and some other countries. But high U.S. childhood vaccination rates have prevented major outbreaks here.

In a typical year, only one outbreak occurs in the United States, infecting perhaps 10 to 20 people.

So far this year through July 30 the country has seen seven outbreaks, including one in Illinois with 30 cases, said Seward, deputy director of the CDC's Division of Viral Diseases.

Mike Stobbe, AP Writer, COPYRIGHT 2008 BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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