Measles Outbreak, Worst in 27 Years, Slows in September

U.S. maintains measles elimination status as NY outbreak ebbs

The number of new measles cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) fell to six in September—the lowest monthly total of 2019—but the United States is still experiencing its worst outbreak in 27 years.

The nation maintained its measles elimination status of nearly 20 years, however, when the New York State Department of Health declared the end of a nearly year-long outbreak. Measles elimination status is lost immediately if a chain of transmission in a given outbreak is sustained for more than 12 months.

From January 1 to October 3, 2019, 1,250 cases of measles were confirmed in 31 states, the highest total since 1992. More than 75% were linked to outbreaks in New York City and New York state, most of which occurred among unvaccinated children in Orthodox Jewish communities. These outbreaks have been traced to unvaccinated travelers who brought measles back from other countries at the beginning of October 2018.

Measles outbreaks continue to occur around the world. When measles is imported into a highly vaccinated community, outbreaks either do not happen or usually remain small. However, if measles is introduced into an undervaccinated community, it can spread quickly and be difficult to control. Serious complications can result: So far in 2019, 119 people who got measles have been hospitalized, and 61 reported complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said the outbreak “was an alarming reminder about the dangers of vaccine hesitancy and misinformation.” A significant factor contributing to outbreaks has been misinformation in some communities about the safety of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. Some organizations are deliberately targeting these communities with inaccurate and misleading information.

“We want to emphasize that vaccines are safe,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, MD. “They remain the most powerful tool to preserve health and to save lives. The prevalence of measles is a global challenge, and the best way to stop this and other vaccine preventable diseases from gaining a foothold in the U.S. is to accept vaccines.”

Sources: CDC, October 4, 2019; CDC, October 7, 2019