Conference Coverage

Most measles cases in 25 years prompts government pleas to vaccinate



There have been 704 measles cases in the United States in 2019 as of April 26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Number of measles cases reported to the CDC

The updated figure adds 9 cases to the previous tally of 695 cases as of April 24, when the CDC announced that the number of cases in 2019 had surpassed the total for any year since the disease was considered effectively eliminated from the country in 2000.

Cases have been reported in 22 states, with the largest outbreaks in Washington and New York. The outbreak in Washington, which included 72 cases, was declared over last week. Two outbreaks in New York, however, are the largest and longest-lasting measles outbreaks since the disease was considered eliminated, said Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. The longer they continue, the “greater the chance that measles will again gain a foothold in the United States,” she said at CDC telebriefing on measles.

The outbreaks are linked to travelers who are exposed to measles abroad and bring it to the United States. The disease then may spread, especially in communities with high rates of unvaccinated people. “A significant factor contributing to the outbreaks in New York is misinformation in the communities about the safety of the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine,” according to the CDC.

National Infant Immunization Week

Until last week, 2014 – with 667 measles cases – had been the year with the most cases since the disease was effectively eliminated. The last time the United States had more measles cases was in 1994, when there were 963 cases for the year.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, also at the telebriefing, pointed out that 1994 also was the year that the United States first observed National Infant Immunization Week, which is April 27–May 4 this year. The CDC is marking the 25th anniversary of the annual observance, which highlights “the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases” and celebrates “the achievements of immunization programs in promoting healthy communities,” Secretary Azar said.

Message to health care providers

CDC director Robert Redfield Jr., MD, noted that measles has “no treatment, no cure, and no way to predict how bad a case will be.”

Some patients may have mild symptoms, whereas others may have serious complications such as pneumonia or encephalitis. In 2019, 3% of the patients with measles have developed pneumonia, he said. No patients have died.

Dr. Redfield, a virologist, noted that the CDC is recommending that children aged 6-12 months receive 1 dose of the measles vaccine if traveling abroad.

“As CDC director and as a physician, I have and continue to wholeheartedly advocate for infant immunization,” he said in a statement. “More importantly, as a father and grandfather I have ensured all of my children and grandchildren are vaccinated on the recommended schedule. Vaccines are safe. Vaccines do not cause autism. Vaccine-preventable diseases are dangerous.”

More than 94% of parents vaccinate their children, Dr. Redfield added. “CDC is working to reach the small percentage of vaccine-hesitant individuals so they too understand the importance of vaccines. It is imperative that we correct misinformation and reassure fearful parents so they protect their children from illnesses with long-lasting health impacts.”

About 1.3%, or 100,000 children, in the United States under 2 years old have not been vaccinated, he said.

“I call upon health care providers to encourage parents and expectant parents to vaccinate their children for their own protection and to avoid the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases within their families and communities,” he said. “We must join together as a nation to once again eliminate measles and prevent future disease outbreaks.”

The CDC has a complete list of clinical recommendations for health care providers on its website.

The president weighs in

President Donald Trump said that children should receive vaccinations – his first public comment about vaccines since his inauguration. Previously, he had questioned the safety of vaccines.

Asked by reporters about the measles outbreaks and his message for parents about having their kids vaccinated, he said: “They have to get the shot. The vaccinations are so important. This is really going around now. They have to get their shots.”

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