Monday September 23, 2019

US Confirms Highest Level of Measles Cases Since Elimination of Virus in 2000

"The longer these outbreaks continue, the greater the chance measles will again get a sustained foothold in the United States," the CDC warned in a statement

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Steve Sierzega receives a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, New York, March 27, 2019. VOA

The United States has confirmed 695 measles cases so far this year, the highest level since the country declared it had eliminated the virus in 2000, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.

The resurgence, which public health officials blamed in part on the spread of misinformation about the safety of vaccines, has been concentrated mainly in Washington state and New York with outbreaks that began late last year.

“The longer these outbreaks continue, the greater the chance measles will again get a sustained foothold in the United States,” the CDC warned in a statement. It said outbreaks can spread out of control in communities with lower-than-normal vaccination rates.

Although the disease was eliminated from the country in 2000, meaning the virus was no longer continually present year round, outbreaks still happen via travelers coming from countries where measles is still common, the CDC says.

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Materials are seen left at demonstration by people opposed to childhood vaccination after officials in Rockland County, a New York City suburb, banned children not vaccinated against measles from public spaces. VOA

As of Wednesday, the number of measles cases so far this year exceeds the 667 cases reported in all of 2014, which had been the highest annual number recorded since the elimination in 2000. The virus has been recorded in 22 states so far in 2019, the CDC said.

The virus can lead to deadly complications, but no measles deaths have been reported in the latest outbreaks. Responding to the new figures, U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar urged greater vaccination, saying in a statement that the vaccine’s “safety has been firmly established over many years.”

“The United States is seeing a resurgence of measles, a disease that had once been effectively eliminated from our country,” he said.

Measles has been on the rise globally. More than 110,000 cases were reported in the first three months of 2019, according to the World Health Organization, based on provisional data. That is a 300 percent increase compared with the same period the previous year.

 

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FILE – 15-month-old August Goepferd received the measles, mumps and rubella booster shot at a clinic at Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis. VOA

‘Preventable occurrence’

The largest outbreak has been in New York City where officials said at least 390 cases have been recorded since October, mostly among children in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, making it the city’s worst outbreak since 1991. That total included 61 cases recorded in the last six days, of which two were pregnant women, the city’s health department said on Wednesday.

The CDC echoed city health officials in saying this outbreak was fueled by misinformation being spread about the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. A vocal fringe of parents opposes vaccines, believing, contrary to scientific studies, that ingredients in them can cause autism.

Nationwide, the number of children getting vaccinated has remained “high and stable” for several years, the CDC said. New York City’s Health Department took the unusual step earlier this month of issuing an emergency order requiring unvaccinated people in affected neighborhoods to get the MMR vaccine unless they could otherwise show they had immunity.

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FILE – A vial of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and an information sheet is seen at Boston Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, Feb. 26, 2015. VOA

It has issued civil summonses to 12 people it said have defied the order. They will each face a fine of up to $1,000 if found to be noncompliant at a hearing.

ALSO READ: Measles Could be Completely Wiped Off, Instead it’s Making a Comeback

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, called the resurgence a “completely preventable occurrence.”

“We are fighting a disease now in 2019 that should have been off the table in the 1960s with the development of the vaccine,” he said. “It should be viewed as an embarrassment that so many Americans have turned away from vaccines that we are having a record year for measles.” (VOA)

Next Story

Measles Cases in US Cross 1,000 Mark for 2019

As of last week, the total for 2019 had already reached the highest point in any year since 1992, when there were 2,237 cases of the infectious disease reported

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FILE - A man walks past a sign advising about a measles outbreak in the Brooklyn borough of New York, April 25, 2019. VOA

The number of measles cases confirmed in the United States in 2019 has reached 1,001, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said this week. As of last week, the total for 2019 had already reached the highest point in any year since 1992, when there were 2,237 cases of the infectious disease reported.

“The Department of Health and Human Services has been deeply engaged in promoting the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, amid concerning signs that there are pockets of undervaccination around the country,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement Thursday.

Azar reinforced the importance of vaccines in combating the outbreak.

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FILE – A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella virus (MMR) vaccine is pictured at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle. VOA

“We cannot say this enough: Vaccines are a safe and highly effective public health tool that can prevent this disease and end the current outbreak. I encourage all Americans to talk to your doctor about what vaccines are recommended to protect you, your family, and your community from measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” he said.

Measles is highly contagious. The disease is usually spread through sneezing and coughing. It can linger in the air for up to two hours. Cases have been reported in more than half of U.S. states. New York has had the highest total, with nearly 700 cases reported this year.

Most of those cases have been in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Queens, where there are low vaccination rates. The New York City Department of Health said that as of Monday, 566 cases had been confirmed in those areas since September.

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Los Angeles County Department of Public Health experts, Muntu Davis, Health Officer, left, and Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer answer questions regarding the measles response and the quarantine orders during a news conference in Los Angeles Friday, April 26, 2019. VOA

Clark County in Washington state had the second-largest outbreak in the U.S. this year with more than 70 cases reported. According to the CDC, the outbreaks in New York City and Rockland County, N.Y., threaten to nullify the nation’s status of having officially eliminated measles.

ALSO READ: U.S. Measles Outbreak Raises Concerns About Immunity in Adults

“That loss would be a huge blow for the nation and erase the hard work done by all levels of public health. The measles elimination goal, first announced in 1966 and accomplished in 2000, was a monumental task,” the CDC said in a May press release.

“Before widespread use of the measles vaccine, an estimated 3 [million] to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States, along with an estimated 400 to 500 deaths and 48,000 hospitalizations,” the release said. (VOA)