New Jersey, Northeast States on Alert for Measles From Sick Italian Traveler

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CDC and Health Departments Identifying Passengers on Sick Traveler's Flight

Because measles spreads easily in confined areas, such as airports and airplanes, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has been working with health officials in New York to identify passengers and crew who were on the same flight as the Italian woman.

Tan called the latest measles cases reminders about "the importance of getting vaccinated." Even though New Jersey has good vaccination rates, "we always have to be cautious about imported disease," she said.

The United States, which for years has made universal vaccination with the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine a public health goal, pronounced measles vanquished in 2000. However, the CDC has repeatedly warned of the increasing dangers from infections that originate elsewhere, including countries where measles remains endemic, such as Great Britain, Switzerland, France and Spain. Some parents there object to the vaccination of their children, complicating the job of public health officials.

Many of those parents are convinced that the MMR vaccine causes autism, even though health agencies say that's coincidental: autism typically appears when children are toddlers, at about the time they receive scheduled vaccinations. Parents' fears were stoked by a now-discredited 1998 report from Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a U.K. doctor who claimed to have established a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. The paper he wrote for The Lancet, a major journal, has been withdrawn.

On April 11, the CDC recommended that U.S. families traveling or living abroad take extra precautions to make sure they're fully vaccinated. In the meantime, the CDC and several state health agencies have issued public health alerts to minimize contagion when foreigners with confirmed cases of the disorder have become sick while in this country.

In another case, the New Jersey health department continues investigating potential exposures involving two French women who developed measles symptoms on April 10, three days after they arrived in the state. Both subsequently recovered, but were infectious when they attended a party on April 10 at a restaurant in Livingston, N.J. Patrons exposed on that day could develop symptoms as late as this Sunday.

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