Three new cases of measles were reported in Georgia Thursday, bringing the total to six overall reported in the state this year, part of the nearly 700 nationwide.
The state Department of Public Health said the three new cases were members of one family in metro Atlanta, and none was vaccinated. The previous three cases, reported in January, were also in metro Atlanta, and also were unvaccinated.
Measles cases in the United States have surpassed the highest number on record since the disease was declared eliminated nationwide in 2000. Overall, there have been 695 measles cases across 22 states this year.
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease. It spreads when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes and respiratory droplets travel through the air. Almost everyone who has not been vaccinated will get measles if they are exposed to the virus, Public Health said.
Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes and a rash of red spots.
Most U.S. cases have emerged in communities with low rates of vaccination against the virus, according to public health officials.
Experts point to the anti-vaccination movement as a cause of this year's measles surge
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the vaccine for everyone over a year old, except for people who had the disease as children. Those who have had measles are immune. President Donald Trump on Friday urged Americans to get immunizations to stop measles from spreading.
The vaccine, which became available in the 1960s, is considered safe and effective, and because of it, measles had been declared all but eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. But it has made comebacks since then.
"The United States is seeing a resurgence of measles, a disease that had once been effectively eliminated from our country,'' Alex Azar, U.S. secretary of health and human services, said in a statement Wednesday. "Measles is not a harmless childhood illness, but a highly contagious, potentially life-threatening disease. We have the ability to safely protect our children and our communities. Vaccines are a safe, highly effective public health solution that can prevent this disease.''
Public Health officials point out that two doses of the MMR vaccine are about 97 percent effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93 percent effective.
There have been no confirmed measles deaths in this country, but officials believe it is just a matter of time, the New York Times reported. Dozens of victims — most of them young children — have been hospitalized.
Even with modern medical care, the disease normally kills about one out of every 1,000 victims, the CDC says.
Health care providers who suspect measles in a patient should notify public health immediately, state officials said.