Apr 15, 2019 - Health

U.S. measles cases are "accelerating" amid "global crisis"

Data: Adapted from CDC; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Adapted from CDC; Chart: Axios Visuals

Measles cases in the U.S. jumped last week, with 90 new confirmed cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday. The global statistics are also grim, with a 300% increase in preliminary data for the first 3 months of this year compared with last year.

Why it matters: The extremely contagious virus, for which there is a safe and effective vaccine, shows no signs of slowing despite efforts by public health authorities to combat the spread of misinformation with strong measures. International health officials are becoming increasingly concerned about simultaneous, growing outbreaks in multiple countries.

By the numbers: CDC spokesperson Jason McDonald tells Axios: "It appears the outbreak is accelerating. 61 of the 90 cases reported this week had rash onset in April."

  • This week, CDC reports 555 confirmed cases of measles in 20 states so far in 2019. The previous week showed 465 cases in 19 states.
  • This is the second-greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since measles was considered eliminated in 2000, and it's only mid-April.

Between the lines: The national average vaccination coverage in kindergarten children is at a level (94.3% for 2 doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine for the 2017–2018 school year) consistent with the "herd immunity" necessary to prevent a nationwide outbreak. However, pockets of community resistance to the vaccine are allowing the virus to make inroads, experts have told Axios.

  • Globally, the World Health Organization and UNICEF announced Monday that provisional data also shows that in 170 countries there have been more than 112,000 cases so far this year, compared with the numbers from all of last year, which was 28,124 cases from 163 countries.

What they're saying: Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Axios:

“The year 2019 may be remembered for the return of measles to America, almost 20 years after it was eliminated in the U.S. We’re reaching record levels in terms of numbers of cases and outbreaks, with all of them largely engineered by the anti-vaccine lobby. We now have children in intensive care units."
"If our nation is serious about stopping future measles epidemics, in the coming years it will be essential for us to begin dismantling the anti-vaccine media empire now dominating the internet and social media and e-commerce sites, together with shutting down the non-medical vaccine exemptions currently allowed across most of the U.S.”

The heads of the WHO and UNICEF write in an opinion piece for CNN that there's a "global crisis." They implore governments, medical professionals and others to help provide vaccines to lower-income countries and to take a stronger stand against misinformation globally. Per their op-ed:

"Ultimately, there is no 'debate' to be had about the profound benefits of vaccines. We know they are safe, and we know they work. More than 20 million lives have been saved through measles vaccination since the year 2000 alone."
"But children are paying the price for complacency. It will take long-term efforts, political commitment and continuous investment — in vaccine access, in service quality and in trust — to ensure we are, and remain, protected together."

Meanwhile, Madagascar health officials say there have been 1,200 deaths amid more than 117,000 cases in the small, impoverished nation since their measles outbreak began in September, per AP. The country's vaccination rate is only 58%, but it's primarily due to lack of resources instead of vaccination distrust, the report adds.

Plus, the Wall Street Journal reports there's growing evidence that besides the worry of possible serious immediate complications, the virus may also cause a longer-term risk of dampening people's immune systems from responding to other diseases for 2–5 years after measles.

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