Largest Measles Outbreak in Two Decades Has Doctors Worried

Measles, one of the most contagious infectious diseases, has popped up in 13 separate outbreaks across the United States. According to the CDC, more people have been infected with the disease in the first four months of this year than in the first four months of the past 18 years.


Data released by the CDC last week showed a dramatic rise in the disease with 13 reported outbreaks and 129 individual cases. California has the highest number, with 58 measles cases since January 1. The average number of measles cases in California is 9 per year.

For California, at least, the CDC believes many of the cases were caused by people travelling to the Philippines where there are at least 20,000 confirmed and reported cases of measles.

Once visitors pick up the disease, they can bring it back to the United States and potentially spread it to others who are not vaccinated due to health or personal reasons.

“As more parents decline to vaccinate their children, measles incidence is increasing – a fact that alarms me both as a hospital epidemiologist and as a parent of a vulnerable infant too young to receive the measles vaccine,” Julia Shaklee Sammons wrote in her commentary on the subject in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Of the outbreak in California, 25 of the 58 were not immunized against measles; 19 because of philosophical reasons. However, fewer vaccinated people is not the only concern with the outbreaks. Dr. Sammons feels a lack of awareness of the disease among doctors may be a contributing factor.

“Because of the success of the measles vaccine, many clinicians have never seen measles and may not be able to recognize its features.”

Symptoms of the measles include fever, cough, and conjunctivitis, as well as a distinctive rash. It is an extremely infectious disease, and in rare cases can lead to pneumonia and brain infections. Though there hasn’t been a death from measles in nearly 10 years, the symptoms can turn fatal.

Doctors are worried with the number of cases popping up, a death from measles could happen this year. “We really don’t want a child to die from measles, but it’s almost inevitable,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Major resurgences of diseases can sneak up on us.”

To help prevent the spread of measles and to protect from contracting it, the CDC recommends children be vaccinated against the disease. They recommend the first of two rounds of vaccination start at 12 months, with the second dose administered between the ages of four and six. Infants travelling internationally should be vaccinated between 6 and 11 months old.

Dr. Schuchat also said it’s important for adults to verify their measles vaccination is up to date. The CDC recommends all U.S. residents born after 1956 make sure they are still immune or get a new measles vaccination, especially if they plan to travel outside North or South America.

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