Preventable-disease outbreaksWorry: Soaring U.S. measles cases set record

Published 26 April 2019

Measles was declared officially eliminated in 2000 in the United States, but thanks to an effective misinformation campaign by anti-vaccination activists, measles has been making a comeback: The U.S. has just seen the highest annual record of measles infection in five years – and it is not even May. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 110,000 people, most of them children, died from measles in 2017.

A nation priding itself on medical advances has taken a major step backward. U.S. measles cases, which have accelerated in recent weeks, have now reached a new post-elimination high, at 695 infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Wednesday.

It is the U.S. highest total in twenty-five years. And it is not even May.

Measles was declared officially eliminated in 2000 in the United States after total cases did not even reach 140 for three straight years. The previous post-elimination annual high mark was recorded in 2014—for all of 2014—with 667 cases.

But you would have to go back to 1994, which saw 958 cases, for a more dismal record than this year’s. The country, however, is on track to pass that total in the coming weeks.

Also Wednesday, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spotlighted the global crisis of not vaccinating, as it noted that twenty-one million children globally miss out on measles-containing vaccine each year.

The cost of not vaccinating
CIDRAP notes that measles is not the benign disease that many who oppose vaccination might think. One in every four cases results in hospitalization, according to CDC data. As many as 1 in 20 children with measles also contract pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young kids. And about 1 child in 1,000 suffers encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, which can cause brain damage.

One or two of every infected person dies, even with the best of care, the agency said. Complications are most common in children under 5 years and adults older than 20.

Also, people might forget the devastating impact the disease had in the United States before the vaccine was developed in 1963. According to the CDC, 500,000 US cases annually were reported, resulting in 48,000 hospitalizations, 1,000 cases involving encephalitis, and 450 to 500 deaths.

Large outbreaks, misinformation
The record number of infections is largely the result of several large outbreaks: one in Washington state and two in New York that started in late 2018. One of them involves an Orthodox Jewish community in New York City that, as reported by state officials yesterday, has grown to 390 cases—more than half the US total.