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United States Maintains Measles Elimination Status Despite Record Year

OCT 07, 2019 | MICHAELA FLEMING
The United States will maintain its measles elimination status, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced. The announcement came just 1 day after health officials in New York State declared the end of the Rockland County outbreak, which persisted for nearly 1 year.

“We are very pleased that the measles outbreak has ended in New York and that measles is still considered eliminated in the United States. This result is a credit to the cooperative work by local and state health departments, community and religious leaders, other partners, and the [US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a statement.

The disease was declared eliminated in the United States in 2001, but after a record-breaking year for outbreaks and new cases, health officials were unsure if the designation would stand.

From January 1 through October 3, 2019, 1250 cases of measles were confirmed across 31 states. The annual number of cases is the greatest number reported in the United States since 1992. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 75% of the 2019 cases are linked to outbreaks in New York State and City.

At IDWeek 2019, health officials from New York presented 2 late breaking oral abstracts detailing the measles outbreaks throughout the state. A total of 406 individuals were infected with measles in Rockland County during the outbreak.

“Unvaccinated children were identified as the largest group affected and experienced severe complications; nearly 30% of hospitalized children were admitted to an ICU,” the authors of one of the abstracts concluded. “These data support the critical need for continued education and outreach on the risks of measles and the value of vaccination to prevent continued circulation in undervaccinated communities and potential further cases of severe disease.”

Earlier this year in August, 4 countries in the European Union, Albania, Czechia, Greece, and the United Kingdom, lost their measles elimination status. The decision was made by the European Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination (RVC) upon assessing annual status updates for the 53 member states of the European Union.

Overall, 35 European nations are now considered to have achieved or sustained measles eliminations, 2 nations have interrupted endemic transmission for 12-35 months, and 12 remain endemic for measles.

Based on the ongoing circulation of measles throughout the region, the World Health Organization has classified the situation as a Grade 2 emergency, which provides financial and technical resources to support the affected nations. Earlier this year the WHO identified vaccine hesitancy as a top global health threat in 2019.

“CDC encourages Americans to embrace vaccination with confidence for themselves and their families. We want to emphasize that vaccines are safe,” Robert Redfield, MD, director of the CDC said, in a statement. “They remain the most powerful tool to preserve health and to save lives. The prevalence of measles is a global challenge, and the best way to stop this and other vaccine preventable diseases from gaining a foothold in the US is to accept vaccines.”
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