U.S. measles cases are highest since eradication in 2000

CDC confirmed a surge of 75 new cases of measles in the United States last week, bringing this year’s nationwide total so far to 839 cases across 23 states. These alarming numbers, released in a CDC update on Monday, May 13, demonstrate the highest number of measles cases reported in the United States since 1994 and since the disease was declared eradicated in the country in 2000.

According to the update, the largest outbreaks are centered in New York City, which has reported 498 measles cases. The majority involve the Orthodox Jewish community in the Williamsburg neighborhood. New York’s Rockland County has also confirmed 225 cases of measles. Other outbreaks, defined as three or more cases, are currently ongoing in California, Michigan, New Jersey, Georgia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

U.S. public health officials attribute the disease’s resurgence and spread in the United States to the growing number of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children against the disease, which jeopardizes herd immunity in their communities. CDC linked the origins of these outbreaks to travelers who brought measles back from other countries such as Israel, Ukraine, and the Philippines.

Several states, including New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Iowa, Minnesota, and Vermont, are now considering bills to eliminate nonmedical exemptions that allow unvaccinated children to attend public schools, which would follow the examples of California, Mississippi, and West Virginia—the only three states that currently have such policies in effect. In an effort to mitigate the outbreaks, New York City has also begun to fine adults who live in affected areas and are refusing to get themselves or their children vaccinated.

Europe is also seeing a surge in measles outbreaks, with 34,300 cases reported in just January and February of 2019, according to an update by the World Health Organization (WHO). The majority of these cases—more than 25,000—were in Ukraine, and 13 deaths from the disease have occurred in Ukraine, Romania, and Albania. WHO attributes these outbreaks to low or declining immunization coverage in certain groups, as well as immunity gaps among older populations.