U.S. Measles Cases Hit 465 -- And Most Are Kids

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A frightening 78 new cases of measles were reported across the country just in the last week

At least 465 cases of measles have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since the beginning of the year, putting the United States on track to have its worst year for the dangerous and deadly disease perhaps in decades. Just last week, the number ballooned from 387, with 78 new cases reported from coast to coast.

Over 80 percent of the cases reported so far have been in children under the age of 19. The vast majority of those infected had not received the MMR vaccine.

The number of cases is the highest that it’s been since 2014, when 667 cases were recorded, and it’s only the beginning of April. The next-highest number before that? There were 963 confirmed cases in 1994.

So far, most of the recent cases have come from specific outbreaks. Oakland County, Michigan is struggling with a significant outbreak, while California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Illinois have also reported clusters of cases. Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada and Arizona have also reported cases this spring, as New York deals with a long, slow-burning outbreak that caused the government to implement a state of emergency in March.

Earlier in the year, Washington State struggled with a large outbreak, while Oregon, Hawaii, Colorado, Kentucky, Connecticut and Texas also reported cases this winter after the New Year.

All in all, there have been 17 outbreaks so far in 2019, with an “outbreak” defined as any cluster of three or more cases.

Measles is an extremely contagious virus that can spread extremely quickly to unvaccinated people – an infected person can pass the disease to 90 percent of those around them who aren’t immunized. Someone infected with measles can cough in a room and someone can catch it from them simply by being in that room hours later. In recent years, most measles cases in the United States have come from travelers who caught the disease abroad and then entered the country.

While the measles still persists in other countries throughout the world, it was officially considered wiped out in the United States in 2000, when enough of the population was vaccinated against the disease to prevent widespread outbreaks. Now, with larger pockets of unvaccinated populations, the country is losing its collective ability to stop the disease from spreading.

When about 95 percent of the population is vaccinated, it creates herd immunity that protects whole populations from measles outbreaks – including those who can’t get immunized for one reason or another.

What’s causing this new wave of measles cases? Many of the outbreaks involve populations that don’t vaccinate their children for one reason or another – two recent communities include Orthodox Jewish communities and Somali immigrant communities. But another reason lies in a recent, growing anti-vax movement that claims immunizations cause injuries, lead to autism, and may even cause death. “Anti-vaxxers” are known for their refusal to believe study after study that shows vaccines are safe, and they get most of their information from echo chambers on the internet, like social media platforms and online forums.

The best thing we can do to control and stop these outbreaks? First and foremost: make sure everyone in your family who can be vaccinated is. Secondly: look into your local government and school policies regarding immunization exemptions. And if you have an anti-vax friend? Maybe talk to them about how dangerous their beliefs are (and how they’re totally, completely not based in facts, and how they’re going to harm kids).