It's only May, and already America has seen 288 cases of measles. That's the highest number of reported cases since the disease was officially eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, and the highest number reported in the first five months of a year since 1994. Why the resurgence? Unvaccinated U.S. residents.
Above: Measles, U.S., 2001-2014: Cumulative Number by Month of Rash Onset | Image Credit: CDC
A report issued yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control states that 90% of U.S. measles cases in 2014 have been among people who are not vaccinated or do not know their vaccination status.
"The current increase in measles cases is being driven by unvaccinated people, primarily U.S. residents, who got measles in other countries, brought the virus back to the United States and spread to others in communities where many people are not vaccinated" said Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Epidemiologists call these cases "importations." An unvaccinated traveler who visits a country where measles is still common not only risks becoming infected, she also risks bringing the virus back into the U.S.
To travel, unvaccinated, to a place like the Philippines – where a large measles outbreak has been ongoing since October 2013, and many of 2014's U.S. cases are thought to have originated – is to gamble not only with your own health, but that of your community back home. It's dangerous, and it's irresponsible. And yet, the CDC reports that among the unvaccinated Americans infected with measles, 85% chose to forego vaccination for personal, philosophical or religious reasons.
Measles is a highly contagious, but very preventable, illness. The key to preventing it, as with many other diseases, is timely vaccination:
Infants and young children are at high risk of getting a serious case of measles. CDC recommends two doses of measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine for everyone starting at age 12 months. For those travelling internationally, CDC recommends that all U.S. residents older than 6 months receive MMR vaccine, if needed, prior to departure.