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U.S. Measles Cases top 700, More Likely to Come

measles testing concept

April 29, 2019 -- The number of U.S. measles cases has hit its highest since 1994 -- and federal officials say there will be more before the outbreak ends.

The CDC said in a news conference Monday, the start of National Infant Immunization Week, that there are 704 confirmed cases of measles this year in 22 states.

"This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since measles was eliminated" in the United States in 2000, Alex Azar, Health and Human Services secretary, told reporters.

In 2018, 372 measles cases were reported to the CDC, and 120 in 2017.

"The vast majority involve children who have not been vaccinated," Azar said. "Vaccine-preventable diseases belong in the history books, not our emergency rooms. The suffering we are seeing today is completely avoidable."

Public health officials gave details about the cases and outlined what steps adults and children should take, especially if they plan international travel during the summer.

More on Measles

While no deaths have been reported, 9% of patients have needed hospitalization and 3% have gotten pneumonia, said CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD.

He reminds people that ''measles is incredibly contagious. A person who has measles can make other people sick 4 days before they get a rash." If that person enters a room with 10 unvaccinated people, he says, nine can expect to get measles. "There is no way to predict how bad a case will be."

Measles outbreaks, defined as three or more cases, are currently ongoing in nine areas:

  • New York State's Rockland County
  • New York City
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • California's Butte County
  • California's Los Angeles County
  • California's Sacramento County
  • Georgia
  • Maryland

"Forty-four cases so far this year were directly imported from other countries," said Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "The top three countries are the Ukraine, Israel, and the Philippines."

Advice for Travelers, Others

Aaron Glatt, MD, chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, NY, said he is getting hundreds of questions from patients who are unsure of what to do during the outbreaks.

"Anyone who knows they have not been vaccinated should get two shots [if they are old enough]," he said. The CDC recommends that teens and adults who do not have evidence of immunity get two doses separated by at least 28 days.

The CDC says children need two doses of measles vaccines, the first generally at age 12 to 15 months and the second at age 4 to 6 years. And the CDC recommends that if infants will be travelling internationally, the first dose should be given at ages 6 to 11 months. Children 12 months and older need 2 doses separated by at least 28 days.

During the CDC news conference, Messonnier said that "most adults are protected against measles," including those who got only one dose, as recommended by the CDC in previous years. But if you got the vaccine between 1963 and 1967, you may need to get a booster, as not all of the vaccines made then were effective. People born before 1957 don’t need a shot because nearly everyone was exposed to the disease before the vaccine existed.

Glatt said it may be worthwhile for those who did not know for certain if they had measles or if they received two shots to get a blood test to check immunity if they are in an area with outbreaks.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on April 29, 2019

Sources

CDC: Telebriefing, National Update on Measles, April 29, 2019.

Aaron Glatt, MD, chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist, South Nassau Communities Hospital, Oceanside, NY.

CDC: “Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know.”

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