HEADLINES Published July6, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

First Measles Death in the U.S. in a Dozen Years Blamed on Anti-Vax Movement

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A child with a typical measles rash. An American woman died of measles this spring, the first death due to the virus in the United States in 12 years.

A woman in Washington State who died in the spring was found to have died from measles. It is the first death due to measles in the United States since 2003, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She is thought to have caught the highly infectious virus at a health facility in Washington State during the spring measles outbreak that was linked to a tourist at Disneyland.

The woman had not shown the classic rash that is the hallmark of measles. The lack of a rash may be due to the fact that she had several underlying health conditions and took medications to suppress her immune system. The correct diagnosis was not made until tests during her autopsy were finished. Her official cause of death is "pneumonia due to measles."

The United States declared that measles was effectively eliminated nationwide in 2000. Health officials state that measles has made a resurgence because of the anti-vaccination movement; people who choose not to vaccinate their children. 2014 had the highest number of recorded cases of measles since 2000, according to the CDC. At least 92% of the population must be vaccinated against measles in order for herd immunity to protect immune-compromised people like this woman.

The measles outbreak in the western United States led to 178 cases in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Two-thirds of the cases were directly linked to a foreign tourist who visited Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, in December 2014.

Because of that outbreak, California just passed one of the strictest laws mandating vaccinations. California parents may not enroll their children in school unless they are vaccinated unless the child has a verifiable medical reason for not being vaccinated.

Measles is an extremely contagious virus that can linger in a room for several hours after an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms usually appear 7 to 14 days after exposure and include a high fever, spots in the mouth, a runny nose, red eyes, and the signature rash that covers most of the body. Before antibiotics, measles-related pneumonia had a death rate of 30%. Measles can also cause loss of hearing and vision. 

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