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U.S. Measles Cases Hit 25-Year High

Health + Wellness
U.S. Measles Cases Hit 25-Year High
A nurse holds up a one-dose bottle and a prepared syringe of measles, mumps and rubella virus vaccine. George Frey / Getty Images

The number of measles cases in the U.S. is now the highest it has been in 25 years, according to the most recent data released by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) Monday. There have so far been 704 cases reported in 22 states in 2019, with 13 outbreaks accounting for 94 percent of the cases.


"We are very concerned about the recent troubling rise in cases of measles, which was declared eliminated from our country in 2000. Vaccine-preventable diseases belong in the history books, not our emergency rooms," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told NPR.

Six of the thirteen outbreaks, representing 88 percent of measles cases, were associated with closely knit communities with lower vaccination rates, CDC said.

Cases in two states, Washington and New York, are responsible for the majority of the new cases. The outbreak in Washington is lessening, but the outbreaks in New York are ongoing. They are concentrated in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Rockland County.

"The outbreaks in New York City and New York State are the largest and longest-lasting since measles elimination in 2000," CDC Director for Immunization Dr. Nancy Messonnier said at a news conference reported by The New York Times. "The longer this continues, the greater the chances that measles will again get a foothold in the United States."

Officials in New York City and Rockland County have moved to quell the outbreaks. In New York City, where there have been 423 cases since October 2018, officials closed seven Orthodox schools, but five have reopened after proving that they were now barring unvaccinated students from attending classes. The city has also issued 57 summonses to Williamsburg, Brooklyn residents for refusing to have themselves or their children vaccinated.

Rockland County, where there have been 202 cases, renewed an emergency declaration Thursday, USA Today reported. Rockland County Executive Ed Day initially tried to ban unvaccinated children from entering indoor public spaces, but this was blocked by the courts. The order now requires those who have measles or who have been exposed to measles in the most impacted neighborhood to stay home.

The CDC said that 503 of the 704 measles cases occurred in people who were not vaccinated. For those without immunization, measles is extremely contagious.

"A person who has measles can make other people sick four days before they get a rash. If an infected person enters a room of 10 unvaccinated people, nine of them will get measles," CDC Director Robert Redfield told NPR.

So far, 66 people have been hospitalized because of the outbreak, but no one has died. One out of every 1,000 measles patients dies even with modern medical care, the CDC said, as The New York Times reported.

Messonnier said the measles vaccine was both safe and effective, but misinformation about its risks had spread in certain communities.

"We have definitely seen misinformation and myths about vaccines being sent to communities susceptible to that misinformation. And these vulnerable communities are the communities in which we're seeing these outbreaks right now," she told NPR.

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The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.

France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.

"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

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