by Carlos E. Castañeda

(CBS SF) — For the first time in 12 years, a person in the U.S. has died from the measles, health officials said.

A woman in Washington State was determined to have died from measles this spring following an autopsy, according to the state’s Department of Health.

The woman, who had several other health conditions, was likely exposed to measles at a hospital during in a recent outbreak in Clallam County, the health department said.

She did not exhibit some of the common symptoms of measles such as a rash, and the infection wasn’t discovered until after she died. The cause of her death was pneumonia due to measles.

The health department said the death illustrates the importance of immunizing as many people as possible to provide a high level of community protection against measles.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection, the last confirmed measles death in the U.S. was reported in 2003.

Word of the death comes during a time of intense debate over mandatory vaccinations for school children, and days after California’s newly-enacted law eliminating personal belief and religious exemptions.

Other states have also moved to strengthen vaccination laws following a measles outbreak that began at Disneyland last December spreading across the country.

Thursday, former California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly filed for a ballot initiative to ask voters to repeal the law. Critics of mandatory vaccinations maintain vaccinations may cause illnesses and claim links between vaccines and autism.

Since 2003, there have been nine CDC-funded or conducted studies that show no link between childhood vaccines and autism.

The CDC says with rare exceptions, vaccines are very safe and their benefits far outweigh any risks.

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