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'Spike is concerning': US measles boom heats up with 75 more cases this week

In a 2015 file photo, a vial containing measles vaccine is loaded into a syringe before being given to a baby at the Medical Arts Pediatric Med Group in Los Angeles.

MEL MELCON, LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS

By JOHN BACON | USA Today | Published: May 13, 2019

(Tribune News Source) — The number of measles cases reported nationwide this year jumped by 75 last week, pushing the total to 839 in 23 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.

This year's total already marks the most U.S. cases since 1994 – and since measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000.

The 75 cases represent a higher bump than the last two weeks, when about 60 additional cases were reported each week.

"This spike is concerning, especially because the downward trend in recent weeks demonstrated that it was possible to keep the infection rates from going up," said Ogbonnaya Omenka, an associate professor and public health specialist at Butler University.

Most of the new cases were in New York City and its suburbs, where hundreds of cases have been reported this year. The area is home to Orthodox Jewish communities where many parents refuse to allow vaccinations for their children. Authorities there have mandated vaccinations in some ZIP codes.

Outbreaks are linked to travelers who brought measles back from other countries such as Israel, Ukraine, and the Philippines, where large measles outbreaks are occurring, the CDC said. The travelers then spread the disease to unvaccinated people in the U.S., the agency said.

The CDC urges vaccination, a position rejected by anti-vaxxers. Last week, Texas state Rep. Jonathan Stickland called vaccines "sorcery" in a social media post criticizing a vaccine expert. "Vaccines are dangerous," Strickland said, comparing government involvement in vaccinations to communism.

In Washington state, Gov. Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Friday ending personal or philosophical measles vaccine exemptions for most parents whose kids will attend day care centers or schools. Dozens of parents protested outside the bill signing.

Primary symptoms of the disease include fever, runny nose, cough and a rash that can spread across the entire body, the CDC said. In a small number of cases, people can develop pneumonia, swelling of the brain or other serious symptoms. Measles can cause men to become sterile and pregnant women to deliver prematurely.

"Normally the acuteness or severity of an infectious disease determines the public’s approach to it," Omenka said. "With this measles outbreak, it is a clear public health challenge convincing the public in the absence of severe outcomes."

State reporting measles so far this year include Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, and Washington.

Globally, measles is a killer. Despite what health officials call a safe, cost-effective vaccine, there were 110,000 measles deaths globally, mostly among children under the age of five, in 2017. Measles vaccination resulted in an 80% drop in measles deaths from 2000 to 2017 worldwide, the World Health Organization reports.

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