Vaccine-preventable disease like measles, mumps, and whooping cough still make frequent appearances in the U.S. and around the world.
These cases usually occur because people have not been vaccinated (for any number of reasons) or have been under-vaccinated.
"A person's decision to not immunize doesn't affect just them," says Marian Michaels, MD, professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. "It affects the entire public."
Here's a list of vaccine-preventable outbreaks that have occurred in recent months.
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California: Whooping cough
By mid-2011, California already had some 2,000 cases of whooping cough70% in infants under 2 months.
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is prevented by the "P" (for pertussis) in the DPT vaccine. Babies are too young to receive vaccinations, but they can remain protected if older siblings and others around them are vaccinated.
As of August, there haven't been any fatalities in 2011, though there were 10 last year. A new law requires students in 7th through 12th grades to get booster shots before entering school in 2011.
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Minnesota has had at least 23 cases of measles in 2011, mostly in Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis. In one week, 17 cases were reported.
The outbreak started when a 30-month-old child returned from Kenya and infected three children at a child-care center and one person who lived with him. That person went on to infect others.
"Measles is remarkably contagious," says Melinda Wharton, MD, deputy director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "You can contract measles from a room where someone with measles has been. It's possible to walk through an airport and get measles."
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British Columbia: Mumps
In Canada, at least 77 people in Vancouver and other areas of British Columbia came down with mumps. Mumps is a viral illness that causes face pain and swelling of the salivary glands and testicles. It's prevented by the second "M" in the MMR shot.
The outbreak, mostly in young adults, was the first sizable one in the region since 2008, according to the local department of health.
In the U.S., mumps outbreaks tend to occur on college campuses, at boarding schools, and in other settings with close quarters, Dr. Wharton says.
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Pennsylvania has had 13 cases of measles this year, as of August 2011, compared with two in 2010.
One person, diagnosed in July, may have initially exposed people in a Morgantown drugstore to the rash-causing virus.
Since then, authorities have been tracking down people in four different counties who came into contact with the patient at restaurants, a bank, a liquor store, a grocery, and a Starbucks.
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New York: Measles
New York State has had at least 13 measles cases in New York City alone in 2011. Half of the cases in NYC were international travelers, according to the city's Department of Health.
None of the cases were fatal. But international travel is so risky in terms of measles that health authorities now recommend that 6-to-11-month-old babies, who are usually considered too young to get the shot, be inoculated before going abroad, says Dr. Wharton.
Those children still need to get the normal two doses as planned, the first after their first birthday.
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Australia: Whooping cough
A newborn died of pertussis in Melbourne early in 2011, the first such death since 2004, according to Australian news sources.
More than 21,000 cases of pertussis have been reported in Australia so far in 2011. In 2010 there were 34,790 cases for the entire year.
Nearby New Zealand has also had several recent outbreaks.
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Indiana had at least 14 measles cases in 2011, mostly in the northeastern part of the state.
Four cases were adults and the rest were people under 18. These are the first measles cases in Indiana since 2006, according to the Department of Health.
Measles protection requires two shots four weeks apart. One dose offers 92% protection, which is why two doses is the standard, says James Conway, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine & Public Health, in Madison.
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Europe experienced a widespread measles epidemic in 2011.
In the first four months of the year alone, 33 countries reported more than 6,500 cases. France had the most, with nearly 5,000 people infected from January through March.
However, Belgium, Bulgaria, Serbia, Spain, and Turkey, among other nations, have reported cases since the outbreak began in September 2010.
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Measles is also a problem in Australia, with some 122 cases reported for this year, as of August 2011, compared with 69 in 2010 and 105 in 2009.
Sydney, the nation's largest city, has had dozens of cases.
One health alert was issued in April in the state of Victoria after four people infected with measles disembarked an Air Asia flight from Malaysia in Melbourne.
That state has had 30 cases this year.
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California has seen at least 20 cases of measles in 2011, compared with 27 in all of 2010 and nine in 2009. Seven children and 13 adults fell ill, but there have been no deaths so far, according to the California Department of Health.
The cases weren't connected to each other but were imported by travelers who had been in Europe, Asia, or Africa.
"We declared that measles had been eradicated in this country," says Dr. Conway. "Now we've already had more this year than any other already than 1996." As of August 2011, 154 cases of measles had been reported in the U.S.
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