Is America facing the largest measles outbreak in years? Georgia becomes fifth state to report cases already this year, and FDA warns anti-vaccine movement will kill thousands
By Cassidy Morrison, chief health correspondent for Dailymail.Com
20:33 19 January 2024, updated 22:50 19 January 2024
- The CDC says measles vaccination rates among children are at record lows
- At least 15 cases have been reported since the beginning of 2024, in addition to 41 cases last year
- READ MORE: Four states now report measles cases as Philly offers free shots
Measles — a disease that until recently was thought to be a thing of the past — is making a comeback across the United States, worrying doctors.
Georgia confirmed its first patient in nearly four years this week, making it the fifth state to report cases of the highly contagious virus so far this year.
Delaware, Washington state, New Jersey and Pennsylvania has also reported cases, and doctors fear this is just the tip of the iceberg, as more measles cases are expected throughout 2024.
At least 15 cases have been reported this year alone, while 41 were confirmed last year, and there are signs that vaccination rates among children, the population most at risk of contracting the disease, have reached new lows.
Nationally, nearly 4% of children entering kindergarten have not been vaccinated against MMR, the lowest rate since the 2013-14 school year, raising the odds of seeing a tidal wave of infections.
The United States is on the verge of a life-threatening situation, with rates of unvaccinated individuals dangerously high, increasing the risk of a wave of preventable deaths.
While last year’s numbers are lower than those in recent years, the fact that there are still regular outbreaks in America is troubling to health officials and experts like FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf and FDA vaccine regulator Dr. Peter Marks, “Thousands of excess deaths are likely to occur this season due to preventable diseases,” they said.
Measles was declared eliminated in 2000 thanks to the highly effective MMR vaccine against measles as well as mumps and rubella.
But falling childhood vaccination rates in recent years coupled with the rise of the anti-vaccine movement means cases continue to emerge.
“The fact that we are seeing sporadic cases of measles, to me, suggests that we likely have pockets in the United States where we have them,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, a leading vaccine expert and professor of molecular virology at Baylor College of Medicine. Re doesn’t do a good job at grafting.
“I’m concerned that this trend is getting worse over the years,” he added.
In the UK, health officials fear the world is in for its worst outbreak yet, saying the current outbreak affecting multiple countries is on a “path to make everything much worse”.
This year, most measles cases in the United States were caused by a traveler entering the United States from a country where measles is more common. But because the virus is so contagious, zero patients puts dozens of people in hospitals and day care centers.
An outbreak in Philadelphia that began at a daycare facility earlier this year — with eight cases confirmed since then — appears to have spread to neighboring Delaware.
An unvaccinated patient traveled to Nemours Children’s Hospital in Wilmington asymptomatic but infectious on December 29, exposing 20 to 30 people to the disease.
Last weekend, Virginia and New Jersey warned residents about the virus — with New Jersey confirming a case in a child who attended day care.
Authorities do not know where the child was exposed in New Jersey, and there is no known connection to the outbreak in Philadelphia.
Virginia is also warning of potential exposure after being notified of confirmed cases of measles in travelers who went to Dulles International Airport on Jan. 3 and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Jan. 4, potentially exposing thousands.
In Georgia, the state Department of Public Health announced on Thursday that an Atlanta-area resident, who had not been vaccinated, had traveled abroad and come into contact with the highly contagious virus.
It is not believed to be linked to outbreaks in other states.
“The Department of Public Health is working to identify anyone who may have been in contact with the individual while they were infectious,” according to the department.
While there has been community spread within Philadelphia, there is no indication yet that infections there have affected the new cases in Georgia.
Measles cases rose significantly in 2019 with a total of 1,274 cases. The previous record, from 2010, was set in 2014 with 667 cases.
From 2001 to 2009, there were a total of 574 cases. The year 2008 saw the highest number of cases – 140 cases, followed by 2001 with 116 cases.
Measles is caused by a virus that spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes. The measles virus can remain in the air or on surfaces for up to two hours after an infected person leaves the room.
Symptoms usually appear between seven to 14 days after contact with the virus. It can cause a high fever that can be life-threatening, a red rash, cough, fatigue, and watery eyes.
The rash usually begins on the face and behind the ears before spreading to the rest of the body, with patches of the rash sometimes appearing and grouping together to form macular patches. They are not usually itchy.
On white skin, the rash appears brown, but it may be difficult to see on brown and black skin.
In some cases, the infection can also cause sensitivity to light, pneumonia, and brain swelling.
One in five children who become infected end up in hospital, while one in 15 develop serious complications such as meningitis or sepsis. For every 1,000 children who contract measles, one or two die from it.
Approximately 5 percent of children with measles may develop pneumonia, which is the most common cause of death among young children with measles.
In addition, about one in every thousand children with measles may experience brain swelling, or encephalitis, which is characterized by swelling of the brain, leading to convulsions and possible consequences such as deafness or intellectual disability.
Vaccination rates in children fell sharply during the first year of the pandemic when doctor visits were reserved for the most difficult conditions, and many medical visits and check-ups stopped.
But instead of recovering once schools reopened in 2021, school-age vaccinations remained lower than usual.
The percentage of American children entering kindergarten with their required vaccinations was about 93 percent in the 2022-23 school year, about the same as the previous school year, though it was also 2 percentage points below recommended levels for herd immunity and below. of vaccination rates in 2020-21.
Herd immunity is a saving grace for children who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons.
This occurs when a high enough proportion of the population is immune to an infectious disease, either through vaccination or previous infection. But as herd immunity declines, these children are at high risk.
“Children younger than 12 months and immunocompromised adults remain vulnerable to measles but are generally protected due to the immune wall created by high levels of community vaccination,” said Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Petigol.
In many states, special exceptions can be made for students to forgo vaccines for medical or religious reasons.
The rate of children and their parents requesting waivers is at record levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rising to an average of three percent in the 2022-2023 school year, with 10 states now reporting waivers exceeding five percent.
The UK is also seeing a worrying rise in cases alongside falling vaccination rates.
Fears of an impending measles resurgence today sparked a national ‘call to action’ from health chiefs concerned about vaccination rates falling to their lowest level in 10 years.
Up to half of children have been infected with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine in parts of London.
Likewise low levels were also seen in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham.
Dame Jenny Harris, chief executive of the UK’s Health Security Agency, pleaded with parents to check their children’s immunization status, warning that the public had “forgotten what measles looks like” and that it remained a “dangerous disease”.
She said “coordinated action” was needed because the UK was currently on a “path that is making everything worse”.
She also appealed to the “Wakefield generation” – adults born in the late 1990s or early 2000s – to check their medical records.
Andrew Wakefield, who wrote a 1998 paper in The Lancet linking MMR vaccines to autism, helped ignite the anti-vaccine movement.
Subsequent investigations found ethical and methodological flaws in the study. The Lancet retracted the article in 2010, stating that the allegations made were false and that Wakefield had acted with a conflict of interest.
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that there is no relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism.