U.S. Measles Cases Hit 25-Year High
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.
Thirteen outbreaks of measles have been reported in the U.S. in 2019. Close-knit communities with low vaccination rates are at risk for sustained measles outbreaks. Read about the increase in measles cases in the U.S. https://t.co/9yjDuB4lrB pic.twitter.com/Zp2YP3wdzf— CDC (@CDCgov) April 29, 2019
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.
As of April 26, more than 70% of the 704 people with confirmed measles since January 1 were unvaccinated. On-time vaccination with two doses of MMR vaccine is the most effective way to limit the spread of measles virus. Read the recent @CDCMMWR: https://t.co/9yjDuB4lrB pic.twitter.com/lJmrQDBk33— CDC (@CDCgov) April 29, 2019
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.
"I must warn you that exposing your unvaccinated child to measles is very dangerous, and it could even be deadly." In my first @EcoWatch post today, @nycHealthy declares an emergency over the #measlesoutbreak and warns parents against "measles parties": https://t.co/dH4E6z9eZj— Olivia Rosane (@orosane) April 10, 2019
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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