Federal health officials warn that 2019 is on pace to be the worst year for measles since the disease was eradicated in 2000 by vaccinations. So far this year, 626 cases of measles have been confirmed in 22 states, according to the latest information from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That’s second only to 2014, when 667 cases of measles were reported nationwide for the week ending April 19, the health agency said. Confirmed measles cases increased by 71 from the previous week, the CDC said.
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The states reporting measles cases include Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee and Washington.
The biggest concentrations of measles cases are in New York, Washington and Michigan. States and areas reporting more than three cases of measles are 359 cases in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens; 199 in Rockland County, New York; 73 cases in Clark County, Washington; 43 cases in Michigan; 16 cases in California; and 13 cases in New Jersey.
The outbreaks are linked to travelers who brought measles back from countries such as Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines, where large measles outbreaks are occurring, according to the CDC, which advises measles vaccinations before traveling abroad.
Dr. Peter Marks, the director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said the new numbers released Monday are troubling, especially in light of the World Health Organization’s statement earlier this year that vaccine hesitancy is one of the top 10 threats to global health.
“It deeply concerns us when we see preventable diseases such as measles or mumps reemerging in the United States and threatening our communities,” Marks said in a statement.
Marks called attention to the CDC’s designation of National Infant Immunization Week, April 27-May 4.
“We want to underscore our continued confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines that are highly successful at preventing — in some cases, nearly eradicating — preventable diseases,” he said.
The MMR vaccine to prevent measles, mumps and rubella (also known as German measles) has been used for nearly 50 years in the United States. Measles and rubella were completely eradicated, and mumps cases decreased by 99 percent as result of widespread use of the vaccine.
“Large, well-designed studies have confirmed the safety and effectiveness of the MMR vaccine and have demonstrated that administration of the vaccine is not associated with the development of autism,” Marks said, acknowledging one of the concerns of so-called “anti-vaxxers.”
“However, we are seeing an increasing number of outbreaks in communities across the country, including those in New York, New Jersey, Washington, California and Michigan,” he said.
The MMR vaccine is 97 percent effective in preventing both measles and rubella if given according to CDC guidelines, which call for two doses beginning at 1 year. There are some generally mild and short-lived side effects, such as a rash or fever.
“If parents have concerns about these side effects, we recommend that they speak with their health care providers about the benefits and risks of vaccines, along with the potential consequences of not vaccinating against diseases,” Marks said.
Measles starts with symptoms that may mirror the common cold, but can cause serious illness and, in some cases, even death.
Measles, a highly contagious respiratory disease that starts with symptoms that may mirror the common cold, can cause serious complications such as pneumonia, swelling of the brain and, in some cases, even death. It causes a skin rash, fever, cough and runny nose, and is especially dangerous for babies and young children.
Federal health data show that one out to two of every 1,000 children who contract measles die from complications. One in four people who contract measles will require hospitalization.
Rubella, once a common disease that occurred primarily among young children, causes fever, rash, and — mainly in women — arthritis. Rubella infection during pregnancy can also lead to birth defects.
“We cannot state strongly enough the overwhelming scientific evidence shows that vaccines are among the most effective and safest interventions to both prevent individual illness and protect public health,” Marks said. “Vaccinating against measles, mumps and rubella not only protects us and our children, it protects people who can’t be vaccinated, including children with compromised immune systems due to illness and its treatment, such as cancer.”