The worst measles outbreak in the United States in 25 years has spread to Oklahoma, federal health officials said on Monday as they reported 41 new cases nationwide, raising the total number sickened this year to 880 people.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 4.9 percent increase in the number of measles cases from May 10 to May 17 in an outbreak that has now reached 24 states.
The agency has been providing weekly updates every Monday.
The CDC said there had been one confirmed case in Oklahoma.
Most of the new cases were in New York, CDC spokesman Jason McDonald said, with 21 cases recorded in New York City and nine in Rockland County.
Measles outbreaks have been reported in 24 states, adding Oklahoma to the list, with the highest proportion occurring in New York
Health experts say the virus has spread among school-age children whose parents declined to give them the vaccine, which confers immunity to the disease.
A vocal fringe of US parents, some in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, cite concerns that the vaccine may cause autism, despite scientific studies that have debunked such claims.
‘Outbreaks in New York City and state are the largest …the longer they continue, the greater the chance measles will once again get a foothold in the United States,’ said Dr Nancy Messonier.
And infectious disease experts expect the numbers of cases will just continue to grow.
‘One of the problems is that because these outbreaks are so large, they take forever,’ says Dr Frank Esper, an infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic.
‘Think of it like wildfires in California: when it’s a lot of smaller ones, it’s quickly controlled, but, like a fire, measles is extremely infectious and when it gets huge it can take a while [to get under control].’
In an effort to stem the spread of measles, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio declared a state of emergency requiring everyone of all ages in the zip codes hit by the measles outbreaks there.
Although the virus was eliminated from the country in 2000, meaning the disease was no longer a constant presence, outbreaks still happen via travelers coming from countries where measles is still common, according to the CDC.
Experts warn that the outbreak is not over as the number of cases approaches the 1994 total of 958. That was the highest number since 1992, when the CDC recorded 2,126 cases.
More than 40 people in 2019 brought measles to the United States from other countries, most frequently Ukraine, Israel and the Philippines, federal officials said.
Vulnerable, religious and insular communities are particularly ‘targeted’ by disinformation campaigns, said Dr Messonier, though officials said they could not determine why these groups are ‘targets.’
Those who were born before 1957 are believed to been exposed to the disease already.
Health officials say that so far they haven’t seen signs that immunity is waning, but urge everyone to speak to their health care providers and check their shot records.
Anyone over 30 may not still have the antibodies they need to fight the infection circulating.
However, Dr Esper notes that tests of the MMR vaccine found that it is effective against the strain currently sweeping the US.
Earlier this month, President Trump joined the chorus, urging parents to vaccinate their children in a shift from his tweets from several years ago warning over links between the MMR vaccine and autism.
When asked if he thought President Trump should publicly decry his previous tweets and sentiments, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar defended Trump.
‘Some years ago, there was a debate about that issue,’ Azar said.
‘We can definitely reassure every parent there is no link between vaccines and autism,’ he said, adding that the president’s statement last week marked a ‘strong’ stance on vaccination and the measles outbreaks.
‘The president has been very clear that people should get their shots…and make sure they are up-to-date,’ said Azar.
Dr Esper says that changing tunes as President Trump has done is ‘actually exactly what we’d like to see.
‘Someone that was against the vaccine in 2014 now says go get your vaccine and that is what we’d like to see.’
Although one state outbreak has been declared over, health officials said they do expect more cases to be reported in the days to come.
‘I would guess that we’re still going to see more cases, but the rate at which it goes up will depend on how well-contained the current outbreaks are,’ says Dr Esper.