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US Measles Outbreak Hits 25 Year High

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On Wednesday, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported the cases of measles have risen to 695 in 22 states, the highest number in 25 years.

The number rose from 626 on Monday, an increase of 69 reported cases in two days. Up from 555 just a week ago. Previously the high was 2014, which reported 667 cases for the entire year.

“This is alarming,” said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University. Measles itself is dangerous, especially to elderly, pregnant and the very young, but its return could mean other vaccine-preventable diseases seemingly consigned to the past may be coming back as well, he said.

Anti-vaccination movement

Public health experts say some US communities have low vaccination rates because of the spread of bad information – specifically the now-debunked  article published in British medical journal The Lancet, which purported that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is linked to autism – through social media and continued misinformation. Most of the claims rely on a faked data by now discredited British doctor, Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield admitted to fraud, was stripped of his medical license, and the study was retracted in 1998.

“Many parents are afraid. And if you want to believe your kid doesn’t need that many shots, there’s plenty of places to find people who agree with you,” said Dr Jonathan Fielding, former head of the Los Angeles county department of public health. “It’s not so easy to discern what is real and what is not.”

The city of New York has seen the highest numbers of cases in the Orthodox Jewish communities, where parents decline vaccinations for religious reasons. However, the continued rapid spread of the disease has prompted Mayr Bill de Blasio to declare it a public health emergency on Tuesday, and require mandatory vaccination in an area of Brooklyn. Those who refuse can be fined up to $1000.

“The goal here is to send the message that people need to act immediately to get vaccinated,” he said in an interview with WNYC, adding, “(The) vaccination is available readily here in the neighborhood and throughout the city.”

Numbers likely to go higher, quickly

The number of cases is likely to go even higher. Measles is highly contagious and can spread through the air when someone coughs or sneezes. And in recent days, Jewish families have been gathering for Passover meals. It can take 10 to 12 days for symptoms to develop, and during that time individuals who are infected can spread the disease.

The CDC recommends the vaccine for everyone over a year old, except for people who had the disease as children. Those who have had measles are immune. One out of every 20 children who get measles develop pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles.

The worst year for measles in modern U.S. history was 1958, with more than 763,000 reported cases and 552 deaths.

Sarah Morton

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