US Measles Outbreak Worrisome, CDC Official Says

Megan Brooks

January 30, 2015

The current measles outbreak in the United States should serve as a wake-up call, a federal health official said yesterday.

This measles outbreak "worries me," said Anne Schuchat, MD, assistant surgeon general, US Public Health Service, and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a hastily called media briefing.

"We need to do everything possible to prevent measles from getting a foothold in the United States and becoming endemic again," Dr Schuchat said. "Measles is extremely contagious. It can be a very serious disease, and people of all ages need to be protected. The MMR [measles/mumps/rubella] vaccine is safe and effective and highly recommended."

From January 1 to 28, 2015, a total of 84 people in 14 states were reported to the CDC as having measles. Most of these cases are part of a large, ongoing multistate outbreak linked to the Disneyland resort theme park in Orange County, California, Dr Schuchat reported.

"CDC is working with state and local health departments to control this measles outbreak," she said.

She noted that in 2014, the United States experienced the largest number of measles cases reported in 20 years (more than 600). Many of these cases were linked to travelers from the Philippines, where an extremely large outbreak of more than 50,000 cases was occurring.

"Although we aren't exactly sure how this year's outbreak began, we assume that someone got infected with measles overseas, visited the Disneyland park, and spread the disease to others," Dr Schuchat said.

People with measles in the current outbreak have exposed others in a variety of settings, including schools, daycare centers, emergency departments, outpatient clinics, and airplanes, she said.

The current information available on this outbreak is "preliminary, and the data are changing," Dr Schuchat said. The CDC will update their website every Monday with the latest total counts.

A Call to Action

The majority of adults and children becoming infected have not been vaccinated or do not know whether they have been vaccinated, Dr Schuchat said. "This is not a problem of the measles vaccine not working. This is a problem of the measles vaccine not being used. This year's outbreak illustrates that measles spreads quickly among unvaccinated people and can spread quickly from state to state or around the world."

The United States declared measles eliminated in 2000 (no longer native), but measles continues to be brought into the country. "Between 2001 and 2010, we saw a median of 60 reported cases of measles each year. In recent years, we've had a higher number of reported cases. In January alone, we had more cases than was the median for the last decade," she said.

"I am urging all healthcare professionals to think measles when they are evaluating patients with fever, rash, and other measles-related symptoms and work to ensure that their patients are getting the best protection possible against measles, which means on-time MMR vaccination. One in 12 children in the United States is not receiving their first dose of MMR vaccine on time, and that makes them vulnerable to get measles and spread measles," Dr Schuchat said.

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