The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the nation’s leading public health institute, reported 1,022 confirmed cases of measles in 28 states through June 28 – the largest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1992.
According to the CDC, outbreaks in New York City and Rockland County, New York, have continued for nearly eight months. If those outbreaks continue through summer and fall, the U.S. is in jeopardy of losing its measles elimination status. That loss would be a major public health setback in as much as the measles elimination goal – first announced in 1966 and accomplished in 2000 – was a monumental task.
As of May 31, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has confirmed 44 total measles cases statewide. The outbreak, which began in mid-March, included 40 cases in Oakland County, one in Wayne County and one in the city of Detroit.
In addition, an international traveler was diagnosed with measles following a visit to Washtenaw County and a second international traveler resulted in a case of measles in St. Clair County in May. Infected individuals range in age from 8 months to 63 years; a majority of the cases involve adults.
This is the highest number of measles in Michigan since 1991, when 65 cases were reported.
Measles is a highly contagious, vaccine-preventable disease that is spread by direct person-to-person contact and through the air. The CDC continues to work with affected state and local health departments to get ongoing outbreaks under control.
“Measles is preventable and the way to end this outbreak is to ensure that all children and adults who can get vaccinated, do get vaccinated. Again, I want to reassure parents that vaccines are safe; they do not cause autism. The greater danger is the disease the vaccination prevents,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a statement. “Your decision to vaccinate will protect your family’s health and your community’s well-being.
CDC will continue working with public health responders across our nation to bring this outbreak to an end.”
Before widespread use of the measles vaccine, according to the CDC, an estimated 3 to 4 million people contracted measles each year in the U.S., resulting in an estimated 400-500 deaths and 48,000 hospitalizations.
“We’re not the best in the country, but overall I believe we do a very good job with vaccinations in Michigan,” said Bob Swanson, director of the MDHHS Division of Immunization. “My big concern is the pockets we see around the state where we have communities that do not vaccinate, where there are individuals who question the importance of vaccines, and that leads to larger susceptible populations where you will see the spread of the disease.”
Leigh-Anne Stafford, health officer for the Oakland County Health Division, issued a statement the first week in June that said the measles outbreak in Oakland County had ended. According to Stafford, the end of the outbreak was reached when two 21-day incubation periods passed without any new cases being discovered. During the outbreak, the county, along with the MDHHS and private organizations, held 17 vaccine clinics and administered 3,300 vaccinations.
“We are thankful that this outbreak has ended, and hope it also serves as a reminder of how important getting vaccinated is to prevent future outbreaks,” Stafford said in a statement.
Swanson emphasized the importance of knowing the measles vaccine is highly effective and very safe. A single dose of measles vaccine protects about 95% of children, but after two doses, almost 100% are immune. Typically, the first of two routine childhood measles vaccine doses is administered between 12-15 months of age. A second vaccine dose is given before the start of kindergarten, between the ages of 4-6 years.
Everyone 6 months and older should be protected against measles before traveling internationally. Babies 6-11 months old need one dose of measles vaccine before traveling; all others needs two doses. International travelers unsure of their vaccination status should consult with their health care provider before traveling.
The CDC reports an estimated 10 million people are affected by measles annually, resulting in almost 110,000 deaths worldwide. The majority of measles cases that are brought into the United States come from unvaccinated U.S. residents.
Measles is highly contagious and can spread to others through coughing and sneezing. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune also will become infected. An infected person also can spread measles to others four days before the rash even develops.
“Because we’re seeing huge increases in measles cases, not only in the U.S. but worldwide, every measles case is just a plane ride away from someone in Michigan,” Swanson said. “So it is concerning that if the right person comes in contact with the wrong person, then we’re going to see another outbreak.”