There have been 681 measles cases across 22 states this year, making 2019 the worst year for measles in decades
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 71 new measles cases in the last week, bringing the 2019 tally to 626 cases in 22 states. CNN reports the slightly higher number of 681 that includes cases reported after April 19, bringing the number of cases to an all-time high since the United States declared the disease eradicated nineteen years ago.
And it’s only the middle of April.
Who are we to blame? According to the experts, people who aren’t vaccinated, and people who aren’t vaccinating their kids.
“I do believe that parents’ concerns about vaccines leads to under-vaccination, and most of the cases that we’re seeing are in unvaccinated communities,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC.
A rundown of the states that have reported confirmed measles cases includes Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.
The report doesn’t include cases that haven’t been confirmed with a health professional.
The outbreaks have become so concerning that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took an odd step to remind the public that the MMR vaccine has been shown to be safe in literally hundreds of studies – and that it’s the best way to protect against measles.
“We cannot state strongly enough – the overwhelming scientific evidence shows that vaccines are among the most effective and safest interventions to both prevent individual illness and protect public health,” wrote Dr. Peter Marks of the FDA. “Vaccinating against measles, mumps and rubella not only protects us and our children, it protects people who can’t be vaccinated, including children with compromised immune systems due to illness and its treatment, such as cancer.
“We do not take lightly our responsibility to ensure the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and work diligently to assess safety and effectiveness of all licensed vaccines for their intended uses.”
The United States has a relatively high MMR vaccine percentage. According to the CDC, a little over 91 percent of kids were vaccinated in 2017. But, herd immunity (in which entire populations are protected from outbreaks) is only achieved at about 95 percent immunity – and vaccine numbers have been dropping in recent years due to the ill-informed anti-vaxx movement. On top of that, while overall rates of immunization are high, there are growing pockets of non-vaccinated children, especially in religious communities or communities where anti-vaccine rumors have spread. These pockets are where outbreaks are occurring.
The measles is of great concern both because it is extremely contagious and because it can have serious long-term health consequences. While the mortality rate is somewhat low with proper medical intervention, it can cause hearing loss and brain damage in some children, as well as long-term immune system issues. Babies, many of whom are not yet vaccinated because of their age, are more susceptible for serious ramifications, including death. All in all, one to two of every 1,000 people who contracts the measles dies, and about 25 percent of patients require hospitalization.
Common symptoms of the measles include a fever, a runny nose, a cough and of course the signature rash spreads across the entire body. If you believe you or a family member might have contracted the measles, seek medical help immediately – and call ahead to your doctor’s office or hospital so they can be ready for you.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “vaccine hesitancy” is one of the top 10 threats to global health – and social media websites and online echo chambers are making the problem worse as they spread fake news, shoddy science, and anecdotes.
Perhaps the craziest part about this outbreak is that it is very, very easy to fix: if everyone who is healthy enough to get vaccinated got vaccinated, measles could (once again) be eradicated extremely quickly.