Federal health officials have reported 1,182 measles cases in 30 states this year, contributing to the highest number of infections worldwide since 2006.
States reported 10 new cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since last week.
As of Thursday, 124 victims have been hospitalized and 64 have reported complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis, the CDC said. Most victims had not been vaccinated.
The U.S. is weathering its largest measles outbreak in 25 years, with outbreaks in New York City and Rockland County, New York; Washington state; Los Angeles County, California; and El Paso, Texas. U.S. infections have been linked to travelers returning from countries where large outbreaks are occurring, such as Ukraine and the Philippines.
Measles cases reported worldwide in the first six months of 2019 are the most since 2006 and almost triple the number reported at this time last year, according to preliminary data released Monday by the World Health Organization.
“Measles outbreaks continue to spread rapidly around the world,” WHO said. “The largest outbreaks are in countries with low measles vaccination coverage, currently or in the past, which has left large numbers of people vulnerable to the disease. At the same time, protracted outbreaks are occurring even in countries with high national vaccination rates.”
From January to July, 182 countries reported 364,808 measles infections to WHO, up from 129,239 cases reported in 181 countries during the same period last year.
This year, the WHO African Region has recorded a 900% increase in the number of cases, the European Region a 120% increase, the Eastern Mediterranean Region a 50% increase and the Western Pacific Region a 230% increase. The WHO South-East Asia Region and the Region of the Americas each saw a 15% decrease in reported cases.
“It’s very, very sobering because we have an extraordinarily effective vaccine that can prevent a very serious disease that continues to cause not only illness, but death in children,” said William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
“To see this sort of resurgence of measles around the world is very sobering, if not depressing,” he said, adding that he is particularly concerned about the increase of cases in Europe and the U.S.
He said Europe and the U.S. should have eliminated measles and should act as guides for the developing world, but have not done so. (Health officials determined the U.S. had eliminated measles in 2000.)
“Wherever we look, there appears to be a substantial increase in measles cases,” Dr. Schaffner said.
The actual number of cases are “considerably higher” than numbers captured through surveillance systems due to incomplete reporting, WHO said. The health agency estimates there are fewer than 1 in 10 cases reported globally.
The latest global measles estimates date back to 2017, when WHO estimated there were 6.7 million measles cases and 110,000 measles-related deaths based on the 173,330 reported cases. A total of 353,236 measles cases was reported in 2018. Global estimates for that year will be released in November.
Although the transmission of measles in the U.S. has slowed recently, Mr. Schaffner said he is worried it will pick back up again when schools start. If measles continues to spread into September and October, he said the country is at risk of losing its elimination status, which he described would be a “profound embarrassment.”
Health officials recommend everyone gets two doses of the measles vaccine and to check their vaccination status before traveling. Everyone 6 months and older should be protected against measles before traveling to an area where the disease is spreading, according to the latest travel recommendations.
WHO recommends travelers get the measles vaccine at least 15 days prior to travel.
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