Close Call: US Can Still Officially Claim Measles Eliminated

After almost 20 years, the United States can still say that measles has been eliminated here, after the New York State Department of Health declared an end to that state’s almost year-long measles outbreak, which threatened to topple that claim, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“We are very pleased that the measles outbreak has ended in New York and that measles is still considered eliminated in the United States. This result is a credit to the cooperative work by local and state health departments, community and religious leaders, other partners, and the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” HHS Secretary Alex Azar, said in an HHS news release.

“But this past year’s outbreak was an alarming reminder about the dangers of vaccine hesitancy and misinformation. That is why the Trump Administration will continue making it a priority to work with communities and promote vaccination as one of the easiest things you can do to keep you and your family healthy and safe,” he said.

From January to September this year, the CDC confirmed 1249 measles cases in 31 states ― the highest number in the United States since 1992. Three fourths of those cases were associated with outbreaks in New York City and New York State and largely occurred among unvaccinated children in Orthodox Jewish communities.

Many cases were traced to unvaccinated travelers who were infected while traveling in other countries in early October 2018.

In the CDC report, published online today in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the authors write that 88% of this year’s patients were either unvaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown; 10% of patients required hospitalization.

In the report, Manisha Patel, MD, Division of Viral Diseases, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, CDC, and colleagues write that 86% of cases were linked to outbreaks that occurred “in underimmunized, close-knit communities, including two outbreaks in New York Orthodox Jewish communities that threatened measles elimination status in the United States.”

Globally, measles outbreaks continually occur in certain countries; therefore, when unvaccinated individuals from the United States travel to those countries, they run the risk of bringing measles back home with them.

That might not be a big problem if most persons in a community are vaccinated; however, certain populations, including young infants and immunocompromised individuals, cannot receive the measles vaccination and are at risk for severe illness.


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