Another 19 measles cases have been recorded in the US, health officials said Monday.
Last week’s new cases bring this year’s total to 1,234 across 31 states in the worst outbreak since 1992, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
More than 75 percent of the cases this year are linked to outbreaks in New York, with the majority of cases among people who were not vaccinated against measles.
CDC officials have warned the country risks losing its measles elimination status if the outbreak, which began in October 2018 in New York state, continues until October 2019.
Last week, another 19 cases of measles were confirmed in the US, the CD reported Monday
The disease was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, meaning there was no continuous transmission of the disease for a year.
Still, cases of the virus occur and spread via travelers coming from countries where measles is common.
Since 2000, vaccination rates have been high enough that, even when those travelers come to the US, outbreaks have been kept to a minimum.
But in recent years, anti-vaccination sentiments and suspicion of health and government authorities have jeopardized the nation’s ‘heard immunity.’
If around 95 percent of a population has been immunized against an infectious disease, those who are too sick, young or old to get vaccinated are considered shielded from contracting it, too.
Rates of unvaccinated children in the US are still low – but not as low as they were a decade ago.
Misinformation campaigns and insular, often highly religious groups have fanned the flames of anti-vaccine sentiment in the US.
Much fear over the MMR vaccine stems from a since-debunked 1998 study in which Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues claimed they’d found a link between the shot and autism.
Celebrities as well as Russian trolls and bots have continued to cling to the study, however, and have pushed the disproven idea through social media channels.
This is especially true in religious and insular communities in the US, such as Orthodox Jewish groups in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, where measles has spread like wildfire in the current outbreak.
As vaccination rates fall and infection rates rise, the World Health Organization (WHO) is having to reconsider the US’s measles elimination status.
In fact, ‘there is a reasonable chance that sometime in October the US will lose elimination status,’ CDC director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Dr Nancy Messonnier, told CNN last week.
And other experts have warned that that’s not just a hit to US health officials’ pride, but could have international echoes.
‘I’m concerned it will reduce the motivation of other health ministers around the world in trying to eliminate measles in their countries,’ said Dr William Shaffner, an infectious disease professor at Vanderbilt University and CDC adviser told CNN.
‘They’ll say, “gee, if the US couldn’t maintain it, why should we work so hard on this?”
Encouragingly, the last several CDC reports have shown much lower numbers of new weekly measles cases.
But health officials will nonetheless await the WHO’s October decision anxiously.
(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by David Gregorio and Nick Zieminski)
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