May 31, 2019

America had 'eliminated' measles. Now it's on the verge of losing that designation.

Daily Briefing

    CDC on Thursday announced that the total number of measles cases reported in the United States so far this year has reached 971, marking the highest number of measles cases reported in the country in more than 25 years.

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    Background

    CDC typically updates its measles report on Mondays, but the agency announced the latest case count on Thursday because the number of measles cases reported so far this year surpassed the previous 25-year high, when 963 cases were reported in 1994. According to CDC, this year's measles outbreak is now the United States' worst such outbreak since 1992, when 2,126 cases were reported.

    According to the latest CDC data, 26 states have reported measles cases as of May 24. CDC researchers have attributed the high number of measles cases in 2019 to a few large outbreaks in the United States, including one in Washington and two in New York. The data show that, as of May 24, seven states have reported a total of 10 measles outbreaks so far in 2019.

    Measles is largely preventable with the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. One dose of the vaccine is 93% effective at preventing measles, and two doses are 97% effective against the disease.

    The United States in 2000 largely eliminated person-to-person transmission of the measles. However, the disease is highly contagious and requires communities to maintain measles vaccination levels between 93% and 95% to prevent the disease's spread.

    A large number of the measles outbreaks reported so far in 2019 were associated with close-knit communities where individuals are underimmunized. CDC officials said misinformation about the risks of vaccinations has led to lower vaccination rates in the communities facing outbreaks.

    US at risk of losing measles elimination designation

    If the number of U.S. measles cases continues to rise, the United States could be at risk of losing its World Health Organization designation as a country that has eliminated the disease, the Washington Post reports. According to the Post, a country is considered to have eliminated measles after an absence of continuous spread of the disease for more than a year.

    CDC in a statement said losing the measles elimination designation "would be a huge blow for the nation and erase the hard work done by all levels of public health."

    William Schaffner, an infectious disease professor at Vanderbilt University, said losing the designation "means that a really very harmful infection had been eliminated, but we have now let it back into our country, and it is a threat to our babies and young children as they grow up."

    Schaffner added that the current measles outbreak "is not an access issue. These are middle-class populations with access to medical care. They're withholding children from standard, routine pediatric health care." As a result, "[W]e now have continuing sustained transmission of measles," Schaffner said.

    CDC Director Robert Redfield said, "Measles is preventable and the way to end this outbreak is to ensure that all children and adults who can get vaccinated, do get vaccinated." He added, "[V]accines are safe, they do not cause autism. The greater danger is the disease that vaccination prevents" (AP/USA Today, 5/30; Weixel, The Hill, 5/30; Sun, Washington Post, 5/30; Dobuzinskis, Reuters, 5/30; McKay, Wall Street Journal, 5/30).

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