Measles cases break 25-year record, CDC says

Measles cases in the U.S. have surged to a new high, eclipsing the total number of cases from all of 1994,  the worst in 25 years, the CDC said Thursday. The tally is so high that measles could lose its status as an officially eliminated disease.

There have been 971 cases confirmed in 2019 so far, according to the CDC. That’s the greatest number since 1994, which had 963 cases in the entire year, and it’s a dramatic spike from the 372 cases in 2018. Measles has been reported in 26 states, with New York having the most cases.

“If these outbreaks continue through summer and fall, the United States may lose its measles elimination status,” the CDC said in a statement. “That loss would be a huge blow for the nation and erase the hard work done by all levels of public health.”

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The U.S. started working to end measles with widespread use of the vaccine in 1963, and declared the disease eliminated in 2000, meaning there were no longer sustained outbreaks in this country. Before the measles vaccine, an estimated 3 to 4 million people in the U.S. contracted the disease every year, resulting in 400 to 500 deaths and 48,000 hospitalizations, according to CDC data.

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This year’s outbreak coincided with the spread of misinformation about the safety of vaccines, with conspiracy theories falsely linking them to diseases such as autism. A new study by George Washington University found that Russian Twitter trolls fed into the misinformation, with bots stoking both sides to cause confusion. Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest announced steps this year to crack down on anti-vax misinformation.

“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,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement. “Again, I want to reassure parents that vaccines are safe, they do not cause autism. The greater danger is the disease that vaccination prevents.”

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