CDC: 2011 was worst measles year in US in 15 years

Posted April 20, 2012, at 8:54 p.m.

ATLANTA — Last year was the worst year for measles in the U.S. in 15 years, health officials said Thursday.

There were 222 cases of measles, a large jump from the 60 or so seen in a typical year. Most of the cases last year were imported — either by foreign visitors or by U.S. residents who picked up the virus overseas.

U.S. children have been getting vaccinated against the measles for about 50 years. But low vaccination rates in Europe and other places resulted in large outbreaks overseas last year.

So far this year, 27 U.S. cases have been reported and it’s too early to gauge whether 2012 will be as bad as last year. But with large international events like the London Olympics coming up, health officials are urging everyone — particularly international travelers — to make sure they’re fully vaccinated.

Measles is highly contagious. The virus spreads easily through the air, and in closed rooms, infected droplets can linger for up to two hours after the sick person leaves.

No measles deaths were reported in the U.S. last year; the last one occurred in 2003. But about a third of the 2011 cases were hospitalized, and one child was touch-and-go for about a week before finally recovering, one CDC official said.

The last time the United States had more measles was in 1996, when 508 cases were reported.

Rare baseball card sells for $1.2M at auction

ST. LOUIS — A New Jersey man paid $1.2 million for a rare 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card in an online auction that brought interest from many potential buyers who had never owned a card before, the sale organizer said.

The buyer hasn’t decided whether to come forward publicly, and the seller, a Houston businessman, wants to remain anonymous, said Bill Goodwin, the suburban St. Louis collectibles dealer who ran the auction that ended Friday. The buyer’s bid was the highest of 14 made since the auction began last month.

Wagner was a member of the first class of Hall of Fame inductees. The shortstop, nicknamed “The Flying Dutchman,” spent most of his 21-year career (1897 to 1917) with the Pittsburgh Pirates, winning eight batting titles and hitting a career .327.

Congress urged to block jump in cost of federal student loans

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday urged Congress to step in to prevent a doubling of the interest rate on a massive federal student loan program this summer, which would affect about seven million borrowers.

Congress halved the interest rate on federally subsidized Stafford loans to 3.4 percent in 2007. If the legislation isn’t extended, the rate reverts to 6.8 percent in July.

In a news conference Friday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the higher rate would add $1,000 a year to the repayment cost of the average loan.

Five years ago, the measure passed with bipartisan support. This spring, the legislature is divided along party lines.

Student loan debt stands at $870 billion nationally, surpassing credit card and car-loan debt, according to a March report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The average loan has doubled in size since the mid-1990s, and the share of students who borrow has risen from roughly one-half to two-thirds, mirroring a sharp rise in college tuition.

Four US troops confirmed dead in Afghanistan helicopter crash

KABUL, Afghanistan — A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter that went down in southern Afghanistan, killing four troops, was on its way to the scene of a suicide bombing at an Afghan police checkpoint, Afghan officials said Friday.

The cause of the crash in Helmand province on Thursday night has not yet been determined, military officials said, but the weather was stormy at the time. NATO’s International Security Assistance Force confirmed the deaths of four service members aboard on Friday evening, nearly 24 hours after the crash.

The suicide bombing in Helmand’s Garmsir district killed four police officers, including the outpost commander, and injured seven other officers, said Mohammad Fahim Gorbati, the Garmsir district chief.

A provincial spokesman, Daoud Ahmadi, said there was no sign of insurgent activity in the area at the time. The NATO force did not disclose the crew’s mission, but Ahmadi said it was a medevac craft on its way to help those wounded in the bombing.

Helicopter crashes are not unusual in Afghanistan, where choppers are heavily relied upon to transport troops and supplies. However, relatively few are downed by insurgent fire; many crashes are blamed on mechanical failure, pilot error or severe weather.

Airliner crashes in Pakistan; 127 aboard

KARACHI, Pakistan — An airliner on an internal flight crashed Thursday near Islamabad, with 127 people on board, after trying to land in poor weather, officials and media reports said.

Bodies and parts of the plane lay scattered over a wide area in fields and within a village, television pictures showed. The site was 3 to 4 miles from the Islamabad airport, where the plane was due to land around 6.40 p.m. local time. The flight had taken off took from Karachi, Pakistan’s primary port, almost two hours earlier.

There was heavy rain and low clouds in the Islamabad area when the plane, a Boeing 737-200, flown by the local Bhoja budget airline, was trying to land.

So far there was no official word on the death toll, but there were no reports of survivors. The plane was broken into small pieces. Rescue teams and local residents were on the scene. An emergency was declared in hospitals around Islamabad.

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