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U.S. Measles Cases Hit 25-Year High

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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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