In a potential major blow to public health, the United States is at risk of losing its measles elimination status by October as the number of cases, particularly in New York, continues to rise, health officials said.
At last count, there have been 1,215 measles cases confirmed in 30 states so far this year. That’s three times more than the number of cases confirmed in all of 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week.
This latest figure follows an increase of 12 new cases from the previous week. In order for a disease to be declared eliminated, there must be no continuous transmission of it for more than 12 months. The current outbreak started in New York on Sept. 30, 2018.
“If transmission continues in New York City or New York State, elimination status for measles in the United States will end if there is any measles case connected to those outbreaks on or after October 1 or 2, respectively,” Benjamin Haynes, acting team lead of the CDC’s Infectious Disease Media Team, told HuffPost in an email on Wednesday.
Haynes highlighted outbreaks in New York state and New York City for being at the root of the disease’s spread as more than 75% of the cases this year have been linked to that region.
“Measles is more likely to spread and cause outbreaks in U.S. communities where groups of people are unvaccinated,” he said.
News of the potential loss of status comes 19 years after the extremely contagious disease was declared eliminated in the U.S. in what was considered one of public health’s greatest achievements. Its elimination was attributed to a highly effective vaccination program and better measles control in the Americas region, the CDC has said.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, expressed disappointment to CNN.
“It certainly is incredibly frustrating and upsetting to the public health community that we may lose measles elimination status because we do have a safe and effective vaccine,” she said.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University and adviser to the CDC on vaccine issues, told CNN that it’s highly unlikely the outbreaks will end before Sept. 30.
“We’re embarrassed. We’re chagrined,” he said of the likely result.