The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that so far in 2014, there have been 307 cases of the measles, the most recorded since 1996. The cases have doubled in the past month. The last high rate of measles was in 2011 when there were 220 reported. But we’re only five months into this year. How high will we climb before the year is out?
Most people who get the measles in the United States are unvaccinated, according to the CDC. Since 2000, when measles was thought to be eliminated in the United States, the range of measles cases has hit a low of 37 in 2004 and a high of 220 in 2011.
In Massachusetts, the last reported case of measles was treated in May at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. There have been eight confirmed cases of the measles in the state in 2014, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. In 2011 (the last peak outbreak year), there were 24. In February, there were two public exposure incidents from a resident of Framingham and a resident of Spencer at two local businesses along Route 9 in Framingham over President’s Day Weekend.
The last confirmed case in Boston was in 2013, according to Boston Public Health Commission. (The one at MGH earlier this month was not a Boston resident.)
The CDC in their most recent report attributes the increase in measles cases primarily to two causes.
1. International travel and exposure
- Many of the 2014 measles cases in the United States have been associated with travel in the Philippines, where there is an ongoing outbreak of more than 26,000 cases since April 20.
- More than 30 countries in the European Region of the World Health Organization experienced a large outbreak of the measles, including France, which was the cause of most of the 220 U.S. cases in 2011.
2. Lack of vaccines
In 2008, the CDC attributes an increase in cases to the spread in communities of large groups of unvaccinated people. There were two large outbreaks in Washington and Illinois that largely affected school-aged children who were homeschooled and therefore not required to be vaccinated. That year, 15 states including the District of Columbia had outbreaks (more than one case) of the measles.
The age of measles cases in 2014 have ranged from two-week-old infants to 65 year-olds. Complications from measles this year have included pneumonia, hepatitis, pancytopenia (reduction in red and white blood cells), and thrombocytopenia (low amount of platelets which help blood clot). There have been no deaths in 2014 so far from the measles.
Public health officials warn that the best way to prevent the measles is to get vaccinated.