This year is now the worst for measles in the U.S. in 25 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday, as health officials continue to battle a large and growing outbreak in New York City that has also spawned flare-ups in other locales.
The number of measles cases reached 695 in 22 states as of Wednesday afternoon, the CDC said, reflecting the difficulties of curbing domestic outbreaks of a highly contagious disease when cases internationally have risen and antivaccine sentiment has grown. That is the highest total since 1994, when 963 cases were reported.
Measles was officially eliminated in 2000, meaning that it stopped circulating on a continuous basis. Outbreaks then have occurred when a traveler is infected abroad, carries the virus to the U.S., and spreads it to people who aren't vaccinated.
“With a safe and effective vaccine that protects against measles, the suffering we are seeing is avoidable,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.
“All Americans would be safer and healthier if we received measles vaccines on the recommended schedule.”
The CDC said in the same statement that misinformation about the safety and effectiveness of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is a “significant factor” in the outbreaks in New York.
“Some organizations are deliberately targeting these communities with inaccurate and misleading information about vaccines,” the agency said, urging parents to talk with their family health-care provider about vaccination.
The CDC said it “also encourages local leaders to provide accurate, scientific-based information to counter misinformation.”
“The measles vaccines are among the most extensively studied medical products we have, and their safety has been firmly established over many years in some of the largest vaccine studies ever undertaken,” Mr. Azar said.
The vast majority of cases this year are tied to a few large outbreaks in New York City and state, as well as one in Washington state.
The outbreak in New York City continues to spread months after it started with the number of cases rising by 31 over the past week including two pregnant women, according to an announcement Wednesday from the city's health department.
One of the pregnant women was diagnosed in mid-April, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The city has now had 390 confirmed cases of measles.
Measles can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women who are at a high risk for complications from the virus, according to the CDC. The disease may cause a pregnant woman to give birth prematurely, or have a low-birthweight baby. In a past outbreak of measles, according to the city's health department, cases in pregnant women resulted in a baby being born with measles and a miscarriage.
The Brooklyn measles outbreak began last fall in the ultra- Orthodox Jewish community. Some 83% of the measles cases are concentrated in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn in four ZIP Codes where the city has ordered mandatory measles-mumps-rubella vaccinations for all people, with fines for noncompliance.
The city said Wednesday that 12 people have received summonses for not complying with the emergency order. People who receive a summons are given a hearing and could face a $1,000 fine, with a higher fine if they don't appear for the hearing. The city started issuing summonses last week. Health authorities are worried about a potential surge in cases after families travel for Passover, which ends Saturday evening.
Meanwhile, health officials in Los Angeles County are investigating a local outbreak of five cases, all identified after international travel.
|Measles cases have reached their highest level since the disease was eliminated in 2000.|
BY BETSY MCKAY AND MELANIE GRAYCE WEST