Though measles outbreaks have occurred in nine states this year, no cases have been reported in Utah, likely because of the state's high immunization rate for schoolchildren.

But health officials urge the small percentage of the Utah population that hasn't been vaccinated to do so before an outbreak hits the Beehive State.

Before a measles vaccine was widely available in the U.S., 3 million to 4 million people were infected with the disease each year, 50,000 people landed in the hospital and hundreds died, said Brian Hatch, Davis County epidemiologist.

This year's outbreak originated in western and central Europe, Hatch said, where immunization rates are around 76 percent, and has migrated to Arizona, California, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

In Utah, 97 percent of students in kindergarten through 12th grade have had two doses of the MMR vaccine, which guards against measles, mumps and rubella.

Utah hasn't seen a case of measles since 2002, and only five since 1997.

The last outbreak, said Rachelle Boulton, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, was in 1996 when 118 cases of measles were reported.

There's a simple reason, Boulton says, that people should get vaccinated against measles.

"It's one of the most contagious diseases in the world," she said.

Once it gets a foothold in an unvaccinated population, Hatch says, it spreads.

The main concern for health officials is that the disease is preventable.

Fortunately for most people, once they're vaccinated, they don't ever get the disease, and in 2000, ongoing transmission of measles was declared to be eradicated, though a few cases were imported to the U.S., said Davis County Health Department director Lewis Garrett.

Concerns continue to exist because of a study by British researchers who reported a possible link between immunizations and autism rates.

But those findings haven't been replicated in 16 subsequent studies, says Rebecca Ward, the education outreach coordinator for the Utah Immunization Program.

Ward says children are required to have two doses of MMR unless they claim a religious, medical or philosophical exemption.

Just 2.8 percent of kindergarten students' parents claimed exemptions for them during the 2006-07 school year. Of those, 93 percent claimed a philosophical exemption.

The most common reasons parents gave were that they didn't believe in vaccines, that their child's immune system wasn't ready and that the vaccine could cause the disease it was supposed to prevent.

Parents who would like to find out more information or would like to get their children vaccinated may call the state's immunization hotline at 1-800-275-0659 or go online at www.immunize-utah.org.


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