U.S. measles cases hit highest level
since eradication in 2000
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[April 25, 2019]
By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - 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.
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.
"A 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.
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An illustration provides a 3D graphical representation of a
spherical-shaped, measles virus particle studded with glycoprotein
tubercles in this handout image obtained by Reuters April 9, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/Handout via REUTERS
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.
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
non-compliant at a hearing.
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
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by
Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago;
editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)
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