Are measles making a comeback?

Posted: 10:49 PM EDT Apr 26, 2012   Updated: 5:27 AM EDT Apr 27, 2012

Last year many U.S. travelers going overseas brought back more than they bargained for. Along with the memories, came measles.

In 2011, the disease reached a 15-year high here in America. And most of those cases were imported.

More than a decade after it was deemed eliminated, measles surged in the U.S. to 222 cases last year.

According to the CDC, most folks picked up the infectious disease while traveling abroad.

Chief of Infectious Diseases with Lehigh Valley Health Network, Dr. Luther Rhodes, says vacationers need to beware.

"England, France, Germany, Spain, even Canada are now experiencing a large outbreak of measles," Rhodes said.

Back in 2000, measles was wiped out in the U.S., thanks in large part to the MMR vaccine. Doctors say the shot is still key. It's been studied extensively and it's effective.

"It's a safe vaccine," said Dr. Rhodes. "Its two doses often given first to children at one year of age and again a second at about five years of age."

Dr. Rhodes says many U.S. parents get philosophical, religious or medical exemptions to skip the school vaccinations required by many states. In fact, most of the Americans who contracted the serious infection last year never got the shot.

The measles virus spreads easily through the air and is extremely contagious.

Infected droplets can linger for up to two hours after the sick person leaves, and can spread to people several rooms away.

"It takes very little virus, so there are often widespread outbreaks," Dr. Rhodes said.

Measles is a respiratory disease that causes a high fever, a body rash that lasts for three or more days, a runny nose and coughing. It can cause brain damage and in rare cases, death.

"It can effect an individual's nervous system. It can cause seizures. It can cause developmental problems," explained Dr. Rhodes.

If you're unsure if you've been vaccinated for measles, health officials say get a booster. The shot is the best way to protect yourself.