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US measles cases reach highest number since elimination in 2000

US measles cases reach highest number since elimination in 2000
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Measles cases in the United States have surpassed the highest number on record since the disease was eliminated in 2000, federal health officials said Wednesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 695 cases of measles from 22 states. The previous record was 667 cases reported in 2014.

The high number of cases is primarily the result of a few significant outbreaks — one in Washington state and two large outbreaks in New York that started in late 2018, CDC said.

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The outbreaks in New York City and New York state are among the largest and longest-lasting since measles was eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, the agency said.  

“The longer these outbreaks continue, the greater the chance measles will again get a sustained foothold in the U.S.,” the CDC said.

The outbreak is linked to people catching measles while abroad, bringing it back into the United State, and exposing people to the disease who are not vaccinated.

The spike in cases this year has been driven, in part, by the spread of misinformation about vaccines. Anti-vaccination activists' message has been amplified by social media, but has also found roots among members of specific communities, like ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York.

Earlier Wednesday, officials in New York confirmed 31 additional cases of measles in less than a week.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the agency will undertake a comprehensive campaign to reinforce the message that vaccines are safe and effective.

“Measles is not a harmless childhood illness, but a highly contagious, potentially life-threatening disease,” Azar said in a statement. “We have the ability to safely protect our children and our communities. The measles vaccines are among the most extensively studied medical products we have, and their safety has been firmly established over many years in some of the largest vaccine studies ever undertaken.”

The U.S. is not alone; there’s a global trend of declining vaccination rates, which officials said may be exacerbating the problem in this country.

The World Health Organization (WHO) this month reported that there has been a 300 percent increase in the number of measles cases worldwide compared with the first three months of 2018.  

WHO also for the first time declared vaccine hesitancy as a top 10 threat to global health.