Measles cases are at the lowest levels in nearly a century, the government said Thursday.
There were only 216 cases of the virus between 2001 and 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported. The 44 cases recorded in 2002 represented the lowest number since the disease became a nationally reportable disease in 1912.
Although there were more than 55,000 cases between 1989 and 1991, vaccinations and other public health efforts helped the CDC declare in 2000 that measles could no longer be naturally found in the United States.
Now when measles cases are found in the country, they typically can be traced to people who have recently been in Europe and Asia, where the disease still is present, the CDC said.
Nearly 100 cases were imported into the country between 2001 and 2003, including 55 from international travelers and 41 from U.S. residents exposed while abroad.
The United States needs not only to continue to have high vaccine coverage against measles but also to help other countries improve measles control to reduce the risk of imported cases, the CDC said.
Measles can cause pneumonia, diarrhea, encephalitis and death in people who are not immunized. Most people in the U.S. are immune because of vaccinations. Before vaccinations became common in 1963, there were between 3 million and 4 million cases and 450 deaths annually in the U.S.