Measles cases soar across US: ‘It’s getting worse’
Country sees more cases in first three months of 2019 than in all of last year, CDC says
Erin Schumaker in New York
The US has seen more reports of measles cases in the first three months of 2019 than in the whole of last year, health officials said this week.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday reported 387 measles cases so far in 2019, 15 more than the total number of cases last year. The numbers make 2019 the second-worst year for measles since the United States declared itself measles-free nearly two decades ago.
Fifteen states reported confirmed measles cases this year. Rockland county in New York saw 157 cases, most of them concentrated in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Clark county, Washington, reported 73 cases, the majority of them in children 10 and younger.
California reported 16 measles cases so far this year, compared with 21 cases in 2018. (Last year’s data is provisional and likely to change, according to the California department of public health.) The numbers come on the heels of the state’s 2014 and 2015 measles outbreak at Disneyland, which was the largest in state history.
The number of measles cases typically declines in the summer months, but experts worry the early 2019 numbers indicate the disease is on the rise.
“My concern is that this is trending the wrong way,” said Dr Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and author of the book Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism.
“It’s getting worse, it’s not getting better,” he added.
Also known as rubeola, measles is a highly contagious disease thatis spread through the air. It primarily affects infants and can be highly dangerous, or even deadly. In 2017, 110,000 people worldwide died of the disease, according to the World Health Organization. Risk factors include being unvaccinated and traveling to countries where measles is prevalent.
The rise in cases comes amid an intense public debate about vaccinations.
In addition to medical reasons to decline vaccinations for children, some US states allow religious or philosophical exemptions from vaccination.
A small, but energetic anti-vaccine movement is fighting to broaden those exemptions.
Dr Barbara McAneny, president of the American Medical Association, cautioned against exemptions to immunizations “solely as a matter of convenience or misinformation” because they increase the risk for vulnerable people, such as children who are too young to be vaccinated or children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, such as cancer.
“Getting vaccinated not only keeps individuals from becoming ill with the measles but also helps prevent further spread to loved ones, neighbors, co-workers and others in close contact,” McAneny said.
The anti-vaccine movement has gained momentum over the past two decades, as groups critical of vaccinations have thrived on social platforms.
“The anti-vaccine movement is no longer a fringe group, it’s become mainstream,” said Hotez.
Hotez worries about the quality of the information spread by some of these groups, and about parents’ ability to differentiate between accurate and inaccurate information about vaccines online.
“If you’re a parent trying to get healthcare information about vaccines, you’re much more likely to get this misinformation,” he said.