With Case Count Rising, CDC Issues Nationwide Measles Alert

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Jan. 26, 2024 – Nearly two dozen cases of measles have occurred in the U.S. in the past two months. The count has reached a tipping point and prompted the CDC to issue an alert to health care providers to be on the lookout for people with symptoms such as a rash, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. 

There have been 23 confirmed cases of measles in the U.S. since Dec. 1, according to the alert, which was published in an email newsletter from the agency. 

Among the 23 cases, there were at least two concentrated clusters of five cases or more. Seven cases were linked to international travel. The CDC said that measles should particularly be suspected in symptomatic people who have traveled internationally recently.

“Measles cases often originate from unvaccinated or undervaccinated U.S. residents who travel internationally and then transmit the disease to people who are not vaccinated against measles,” the CDC alert stated. “The increased number of measles importations seen in recent weeks is reflective of a rise in global measles cases and a growing global threat from the disease.”

Most of the 23 people in this latest count of infections in the U.S. were children who had not been vaccinated against measles, the CDC said. 

One of the outbreaks occurred in Philadelphia, where people were infected at a hospital and at a daycare, according to a summary of the U.S. cases from the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota. 

The other large outbreak occurred among family members in Washington state, according to a local television news station. 

Cases have also been reported this month in Georgia, Missouri, and Pennsylvania.

One case in New Jersey involved someone who attended a daycare. Health authorities were publicizing the possibility that people may have been exposed when the patient visited a pediatric clinic and an emergency room. 

In its advisory, the CDC urged health care providers to isolate people suspected of having measles, “ideally in a single-patient airborne infection isolation room (AIIR) if available, or in a private room with a closed door until an AIIR is available.”

Measles is highly contagious, and the fever with it can reach as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Babies and young children are particularly at risk for severe complications. About 1 in 5 unvaccinated people who get measles is hospitalized, the CDC says, adding that pneumonia and swelling of the brain that can lead to deafness or intellectual disability are among potential severe complications.

Public health officials have warned of an increasing risk of measles outbreaks recently because of the declining rate of children receiving routine vaccinations, such as the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) series of shots. The first of these is typically given around 1 year old, and the second shot is given between age 4 and 6 years old. The two-dose series is 97% effective at preventing measles, and a single dose is 93% effective, the CDC says.

“We're going to start seeing more and more of these outbreaks,” CIDRAP Director Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, told USA Today. “We're going to see more kids seriously ill, hospitalized and even die. And what's so tragic about this, these are all preventable.”