The number of measles cases recorded across the U.S. rose by almost 100 last week as the annual total continued its march toward record levels, federal health officials reported Monday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 465 cases have been confirmed in 19 states so far in 2019, the second-highest total since measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. almost two decades ago.
The numbers are up sharply from even a week ago, when the total number of cases stood at 387 in 15 states. There were 372 cases last year; the highest total since 2000 was 667 in 2014.
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The surge has been fueled in part by the anti-vaccination movement – most people who contract measles have not been vaccinated, the CDC said. Measles are extremely contagious.
“If one person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected,” the CDC said.
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Most of the U.S. cases this year involve 17 “outbreaks” – defined as three or more localized cases – including some underway now in New York, New Jersey, Washington, California and Michigan, the CDC said. The outbreaks are linked to travelers who brought measles back from countries including Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines, the CDC said.
Three outbreaks in New York State, New York City and New Jersey, respectively, contributed to most of the cases. The cases occurred primarily among unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities, the CDC said. New York legislators have proposed a bill that would end religious and all other non-medical exemptions to vaccinations for school-aged children.
“The religious communities that I’ve spoken to in no way prevent people from getting vaccinated,” New York state Sen. David Carlucci said. “This (bill) would take any of that misconception out of the puzzle.”
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Similar legislation has been proposed in New Jersey. Only California, Mississippi and West Virginia have such laws.
There is some pushback. Lawyer Patricia Finn represents clients who have been injured by childhood vaccines. She specializes in cases involving religious and medical exemptions to vaccinations.
“The pharmaceutical companies are dominating the media,” Finn told the judge. “They’re scaring people.”
In Sacramento, California, a medical center sent about 200 patients letters last month saying they might have been exposed to measles after a girl who visited the emergency department was diagnosed with the highly contagious infection.
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Common measles symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough and a rash that can spread across the entire body. A very small number of those infected can develop pneumonia, swelling of the brain or other serious symptoms. Measles can cause pregnant women to deliver prematurely.
Globally, the World Health Organization describes the disease as a prominent cause of death among young children, despite the availability of an effective vaccine. More than 110,000 people, mostly children, died of measles worldwide in 2017.
The last U.S. measles death on record was in 2015.
Contributing: Rochel Leah Goldblatt, Robert Brum and Deena Yellin, Rockland/Westchester Journal News