Biggest Measles Outbreak in 17 Years

2013 has the largest number of measles cases in 17 years.

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An alarming new report, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced Thursday, that the U.S. is expected to have the biggest measles outbreak in 17 years. The surge in cases is attributed to parents who refuse to vaccinate their children against this respiratory infection.

Since the arrival of the measles vaccine in the late 1960's, measles cases in the U.S. plummeted from hundreds of thousands to about 60 a year, reports CNN. But recently the numbers have been spiking back up.

"During Jan. 1 through Aug. 24, 2013, a total of 159 cases were reported," the CDC announced Thursday. If this pattern continues through the end of the year, the U.S. could exceed 220 cases.

[READ: Vaccine Coverage High In US But Measles Outbreaks A Concern]

The most recent outbreaks have originated from European countries, where individuals unknowingly caught the virus. After returning to the U.S., the virus was passed to people who hadn't been vaccinated. The airborne disease is highly contagious.

"The complications of measles are not to be toyed with, and they're not altogether rare," Dr. Buddy Creech, Vanderbilt University's pediatric infectious disease expert, said to CNN.

CNN reports that "40 percent of children under the age of 5 who get measles have to be hospitalized." Common complications include pneumonia and encephalitis, and some cases are ultimately fatal.

[ALSO: Measles Outbreak Hits Texas Megachurch ]

The best way to prevent measles is by getting the MMR vaccine, Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters at the CDC briefing.

Some people have dismissed opportunities to be vaccinated for religious and philosophical beliefs. Others have avoided the measles vaccine due to unsubstantiated and often refuted claims of it causing autism. But doctors say this is a grave mistake that makes children more susceptible to measles.

"These measles vaccines work, and there is no good reason not to get this vaccine," said CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sunjay Gupta. "Pockets of people that have not been vaccinated are particularly susceptible."

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