Global measles cases up by 300 percent in 2019

Grant Boone
April 16, 2019

The number of measles cases worldwide almost quadrupled in the first quarter of 2019 to 112,163 against the same period a year ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday, citing provisional data.

In the USA, the disease has spread more slowly, but is centered in the ultra-Orthodox community.

While easily preventable with a vaccine, measles is highly contagious and can be risky, especially for small children.

"Preliminary global data shows that reported cases rose by 300% in the first three months of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018".

The anti-vaccination movementPublic health officials say current measles outbreaks in the USA are fueled by the anti-vaccination movement, which questions the safety of vaccines and frequently spreads false information on social media.

It added: "Many countries are in the midst of sizeable measles outbreaks, with all regions of the world experiencing sustained rises in cases".

However, actual numbers are likely to be 10 times as high, as only a fraction of cases are reported, according to the United Nations health agency.

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A spike in case numbers was, in addition, reported for countries including the United States and Thailand with high levels of vaccination coverage.

In 2014, the United States reported a record 667 cases, including one large outbreak primarily among unvaccinated Amish communities in OH that accounted for more than half of the cases that year. "The disease has spread fast among clusters of unvaccinated people". Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency last week, requiring people living in parts of Brooklyn to get vaccinated.

The Brooklyn outbreak is believed to be driving a nationwide surge in infection that is on pace to set a record for most illnesses in 25 years.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there have been 555 individual confirmed cases of measles since the start of the year in 20 states.

New York City has had the most cases. There are six current outbreaks in California, New Jersey and the states of NY and Washington.

Measles is so contagious that 90 per cent of people who aren't immunised are infected if exposed to the virus. Most of the cases are children under 18 and have been reported from Williamsburg and Borough Park, Brooklyn. Madagascar has recorded more than 100,000 cases since the fall, with more than 1,200 deaths.

While the figures are not yet complete, with some countries only reporting data for January and February, WHO say they indicate a "clear trend" of an increase in the number of cases, mostly driven by poor rates of vaccination. The virus can be prevented with the MMR vaccine, which also protects against mumps (a viral infection that affects the salivary glands) and rubella (also a viral infection that is identified by its distinctive red rash).

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