More than 200 people in the U.S. have contracted measles this year, even though the viral infection has largely been considered eliminated for decades.
This week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a measles cases update, indicating there have been 228 measles cases in the United States so far this year, indicating that the infections have all occurred between January 1 and March 7, 2019.
The measles cases have been reported in at least 12 different states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.
The CDC warns the recent rash of outbreaks stem largely from unvaccinated travelers bringing the infection back from countries that are also facing measles outbreaks. Recent infections appear to be linked to outbreaks in Israel, Ukraine, and the Philippines.
Pockets of unvaccinated communities, who avoid vaccinations due to unsubstantiated claims about the potential link autism or other health concerns, are also contributing to the increase in measles outbreaks this year and in recent years, the CDC warns.
The new case count includes the ongoing measles outbreak in Washington, which has infected 75 people. A state of emergency was issued in Washington where measles vaccination rates for young children has dropped to only 70%. To be effective and create “herd immunity,” vaccination rates should reach at least 93%.
The FDA threatened to take action recently, if states continue to allow excessive vaccination exemptions, including exemptions for religious and personal reasons, which increases the risk of an outbreak.
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory illness. However, it is prevented effectively by vaccination. The illness causes a rash of flat, red spots. Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes.
The disease was eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 due to widespread vaccination, but is endemic in other countries. However, the recent “anti-vaxxer” movement erroneously claiming measles vaccination is linked to autism has decreased the number of children receiving immunizations.
In 2014, there were 23 outbreaks in the country with a total of 667 measles cases, the largest outbreak in 20 years. One large outbreak involving 383 cases among unvaccinated communities was one of the main causes for that year’s rash of illnesses.
In 2018, there were 372 cases of measles, the second highest annual total for cases in more than two decades.
That total was spurred by 17 outbreaks, primarily among Orthodox Jewish communities in New York with unvaccinated people. The outbreaks were linked to unvaccinated travelers who contracted measles in Israel where large outbreaks occurred and spread to other unvaccinated individuals back in the U.S.
In 2018, 82 people brought measles back to the U.S. from other countries. In 2015, a large multi-state outbreak involving 147 cases was linked to a California amusement park where many travelers from other countries visited and spread the illness to unvaccinated individuals.
The CDC warns it is crucial to receive all necessary vaccinations to help increase “herd immunity” and prevent contracting measles. This is especially true when traveling out of the country.