The United States, which was originally declared measles-free back in 2000, could lose that status if the current outbreak in New York continues into early October.
Dr. Paul Spiegel, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health, calls the prospect of that happening “mortifying.” He adds that the outbreaks should not be happening since there is a very effective vaccine against measles.
The vaccine was introduced in 1963. Before then, there were measles epidemics every two or three years throughout the world. According to WHO, those epidemics caused 2.6 million deaths every year. In 2017, about 110,000 people died from measles. Most of them were children under five years old.
There are two reasons for measles’ resurgence: the anti-vaccination movement and international travel. Anti-vaxxers wrongly argue that the MMR vaccination is dangerous and causes autism. Even though scientists have debunked this idea, celebrity spokespeople and social media continue to push it.
Anti-vaxxers spread their disinformation through New York City’s Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, which later saw multiple cases. Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency last April and ordered people living in specific ZIP codes to get the vaccine.
According to Vox, the United States isn’t the only country to be struggling with a return of measles. The United Kingdom, Greece, the Czech Republic, and Albania all recently lost their status as measles-free countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a measles-free country as one in which there has been no continuous transmission of the disease for at least a year.
The US will lose its status as a measles-free country if there are new cases connected to the current outbreaks after October 2. It would not necessarily lose that status if there are new cases unconnected to the current outbreaks.
This year, the US has had more cases of measles than any year since 1992. The CDC reported that there have been 1241 confirmed cases spread across 31 states between January 31 and September 5. The largest outbreak, which affected Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in New York City, ended earlier this month. An outbreak is defined as at least three cases occurring in a given area.
Three other outbreaks, however, are continuing: two in New York’s Wyoming and Rockland counties, and one in El Paso, Texas.
Over 75 percent of this year’s cases were diagnosed in New York. The CDC traced them back to people who had returned from countries experiencing large measles outbreaks like Ukraine, the Philippines, and Israel.