September 3, 2019

A CDC official last week said there is a "reasonable chance" the United States will lose its designation as a country that has eliminated measles.

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Background: US measles cases continue to rise

The latest CDC data show local health officials reported 19 new measles cases from Aug. 22 to Aug. 29, bringing the total number of measles cases reported in the United States so far this year to 1,234. The number of measles cases reported in the county so far this year is the highest reported in a single year since 1992, CDC said:

According to the latest CDC data, 31 states have reported measles cases as of Aug. 29. CDC researchers noted there currently are measles outbreaks in New York and Texas:

Measles largely is 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. But the disease is highly contagious and requires communities to maintain measles vaccination levels between 93% and 95% to prevent the disease's spread.

While the spread of measles in the country appears to have slowed in recent weeks, health officials are concerned the rate of new measles cases could accelerate as children return to school and individuals travel for holidays.

US likely to lose measles elimination status 

Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, last week said there is a "reasonable chance" the World Health Organization (WHO) will rescind the United States' designation as a country that has eliminated measles if the ongoing outbreaks continue beyond Sept. 30 of this year.

WHO considers a country to have eliminated measles after an absence of continuous spread of the disease for more than a year. The United States received the designation in 2000, when it largely eliminated person-to-person transmission of the measles.

William Schaffner, a longtime adviser to CDC on vaccine issues, said he expects the number of measles cases in the country likely will increase this month as children return to school.

Paul Spiegel, director of the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins University, said it will be "a big deal in terms of reputation and prestige" if the United States loses its measles elimination status. Spiegel added that losing the designation could hurt U.S. efforts to convince other countries to strengthen their commitments to vaccinating their citizens. "If we are not able to take care of our own backyard, how can we tell others what to do?" he asked.

Messonnier said, "It certainly is incredibly frustrating and upsetting to the public health community that we may lose measles elimination status, because we do have a safe and effective vaccine" (Cohen, CNN, 8/28; Budryk, The Hill, 8/28; Ajmera, Reuters, 9/2). 

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