New Mexico health authorities have expressed concern over the continued rise in vaccine exemptions in the state. The number of exemptions increased by 140 over last years total. In 2014,  3,335 exemptions were registered with the Immunization Program at the Department of Health.

Counties of New Mexico
New Mexico map/US Government

New Mexico law allows parents to request vaccination exemptions for their children based on medical need or religious beliefs.

“We know the majority of the people who get measles are unvaccinated,” said Department of Health Secretary Retta Ward, MPH. “Since measles is still common in many parts of the world and travelers with measles continue to bring the disease into the US, we want all New Mexicans to know that it can spread when it reaches communities where groups of people are unvaccinated.”

The United States experienced a record number of measles cases during 2014, with 644 cases from 27 states reported to CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). This is the greatest number of cases since measles elimination was documented in the U.S. in 2000.

The news of the exemptions comes on the heels of the multi state measles outbreak that has affected about 100 people to date. California health officials have reported 91 confirmed measles cases already.

Related: Catholic group joins the call for Merck to make single-dose measles and mumps vaccines

New Mexico has not identified any cases connected to the California outbreak. New Mexico’s most recent case of measles was confirmed in December 2014 in a baby who did not receive the first measles vaccination. It was not determined where or how the baby was exposed. The baby was hospitalized and recovered.

Measles is a very contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It is so contagious that if one infected person has it, 9 out of 10 exposed people who are not immune will also become infected. It spreads through the air when infected persons cough and sneeze. It can live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person was coughing or sneezing, and on surfaces.

Related: Vaccines: An interview with Dr. Paul Offit