The number of US measles cases reported in 2019 has surpassed those of any entire year since 1992 – and we haven’t even passed the summer equinox yet.
Federal health officials broke protocol and released its weekly update on a Thursday (not a Monday), after reaching the (depressing) milestone on May 31, 2019.
As of last Thursday, the tally stands at 971 – a whopping 643 of which were reported in two New York counties (Rockland County and New York City), where eight-month-long outbreaks are still ongoing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if these outbreaks continue into the fall, the US may lose its measles elimination status, a goal set in 1996 and achieved in 2000.
The last time the US exceeded these figures was in 1992, when 2,126 cases were reported over the entire year. In the years afterward, an intensive effort to vaccinate children of preschool age (coverage went from 70 percent in 1990 to 91 percent in 1997) saw measles cases plummet to a record low of 37 in 2004.
But now, vaccination rates are declining and measles cases are on the rise: a trend sparked by concerns based on misinformation about the vaccine's safety and the disease's severity, the CDC says.
Contrary to false information circling online, vaccinations are one of the safest medical products available. Indeed, the measles vaccine is thought to have saved a staggering 20.4 million lives globally between 2000 and 2016.
Before its development in 1963, there were 3-4 million measles cases reported a year in the US alone. Approximately 48,000 (one in four) of those resulted in hospitalization, 1,000 in encephalitis (or brain swelling that can result in intellectual disability or deafness), and 450 to 500 deaths. The last time there was a resurgence in the US (1989-1991), 55,622 cases were reported and 123 people died as a result.
There is only one way to stop this from happening again – and that is to vaccinate.
"Measles is preventable and the way to end this outbreak is to ensure that all children and adults who can get vaccinated, do get vaccinated. Again, I want to reassure parents that vaccines are safe, they do not cause autism. The greater danger is the disease the vaccination prevents," CDC Director Dr Robert Redfield, M.D., said in a statement.
"Your decision to vaccinate will protect your family’s health and your community’s well-being. CDC will continue working with public health responders across our nation to bring this outbreak to an end."
If you have any concerns, the CDC recommends consulting with your physician. There are certain people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons – making it even more important for those that can to be immunized (as Romina Libster, staff scientist and assistant investigator at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council, in Buenos Aires, explains here).