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New U.S. Measles Cases Break 25-Year-Old Record, Health Officials Say

A nurse displays vials of measles vaccine at the Orange County Health Department in May. Health officials said Thursday that new U.S. measles cases for 2019 so far have broken a 25-year-old record.
Paul Hennessy
NurPhoto via Getty Images
A nurse displays vials of measles vaccine at the Orange County Health Department in May. Health officials said Thursday that new U.S. measles cases for 2019 so far have broken a 25-year-old record.

The number of new measles cases in the United States so far this year has hit 971, exceeding a record established 25 years ago that covered a whole year of new measles cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reportedon Thursday.

The federal figures show that most of the new cases this year have been concentrated in New York City and Rockland County, N.Y., where the virus has been spreading mostly among unvaccinated children in Orthodox Jewish communities.

There have been 550 confirmed cases of measles in New York City since September 2018, according to the city's public health officials. Those caught unvaccinated in four Brooklyn ZIP codes can face fines up to $1,000.

CDC officials warned that if the current rate of outbreaks continues, the virus may lose its status as being eliminated in the U.S., which public health experts have been worrying about since measles outbreaks starting occurring in recent years.

"That loss would be a huge blow for the nation and erase the hard work done by all levels of public health," federal health officials said in a statement.

Widespread vaccination efforts overseen by the CDC had virtually eliminated measles from the United States by 2000. But health officials say it has been reintroduced by people who have traveled to other countries.

Earlier this week, the CDC reported the tally of new measles cases had reached 940, which was the highest since 1994, when 963 cases were reported from an entire year, officials said. The new numbers mean that the first five months of 2019 have officially surpassed the year-end total in 1994. Two years earlier, in 1992, the nation saw more than 2,200 measles cases.

To be sure, the recent uptick in new measles cases is a far cry from the 1950s, when millions of people caught measles and hundreds died each year from the virus, CDC data show.

Vaccinations against the highly contagious virus are widespread across the U.S., with some 94% of kindergartners having received vaccination coverage, according to the CDC.

Symptoms of measles include a high fever, cough, runny nose, rash and other symptoms. Most recover from the infection, though health officials say 1 in 4 people who contract measles will be hospitalized.

In response to the recent resurgence, the CDC says it is further strengthening state and local programs aimed at spreading the word that the safest and most effective way to protect against measles is to get vaccinated.

"Your decision to vaccinate will protect your family's health and your community's well-being," CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement. "CDC will continue working with public health responders across our nation to bring this outbreak to an end."

The World Health Organization reports that more than 82,500 measles cases across Europe were reported last year, a significant surge from the previous year.

Officials on Thursday said vaccination is especially important when traveling to places currently dealing with measles outbreaks, including Israel, Brazil, Japan, the Philippines and some countries in Europe and Africa.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.