ANCHORAGE -

More than 200 cases of measles have been reported in the U.S. this year  according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- the highest number of cases reported in more than a decade.

In the early 1960s, the measles vaccine was introduced, and by the year 2000 the virus was basically considered eliminated from the U.S. That’s not the case anymore, and the disease -- one of the world’s most contagious -- is making a comeback.

“Unfortunately, since then, we have seen pockets of populations that chose not to vaccinate for whatever reason,” said Dr. Melinda Rathkopf at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.

According to the latest report released by the CDC, 288 cases and 15 outbreaks of measles have been reported in 18 states since Jan. 1.
While the good news is that none were in Alaska, doctors are recommending that everyone get vaccinated to keep things that way.

Vaccinations for children are recommended at 12 to 15 months of age, with a booster shot at 4 to 6 years old. Adolescents or adults who have only received one of the immunizations should receive a second dose, especially when traveling.

“Anyone  traveling, especially to areas where measles has reported to be higher than usual -- recommended to be vaccinated,” Rathkopf said.

State officials say immunization can mean the difference between life and death.

“This is a reminder that measles is a case that still kills  over 100,000 people worldwide (each year),” said Dr. Michael Cooper, manager of the Infectious Disease Program at the state Department of Health and Social Services. “There are still outbreaks worldwide and like we are seeing this year, there is still the real chance of importation of measles cases into the United States.”

While some may resist the vaccinations because of the potential side effects, Rathkopf says the positives far outweigh the negatives.

“I talk to my grandmother and she had two children die to vaccine-preventable diseases, so when you had your friends who had polio your parents got you vaccinated,” Rathkopf said. “And nowadays we see the risk for vaccines and the side effects -- we don't see the benefit, because most of these diseases have been decreased so significantly that we are not reminded of the actual threat from the disease itself.”

Measles is a viral respiratory illness spread by bodily fluids. Symptoms include coughing, high fever, a blotchy rash and white and bluish dots inside the mouth.

Doctors say the incubation period for measles can range from seven to 14 days. When traveling on airlines, it’s an especially good idea to sanitize your hands and tray table.