- The Washington Times - Monday, April 29, 2019

The U.S. has recorded 704 cases of measles this year, the largest number of single-year infections in a quarter century, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.

Health officials documented 78 cases in the last week, as federal and state agencies and President Trump sound the alarm over a highly contagious virus that was thought to have been eradicated in 2000.

The majority of people reporting infections — more than 500 — were not vaccinated, chipping away at the “herd immunity” that had protected the American populace.

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“We have come a long way in fighting infectious diseases in America, but we risk backsliding and seeing our families, neighbors and communities needlessly suffer from preventable diseases,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Monday in a statement encouraging parents to immunize their children.

Measles typically affects children and includes fever and a rash. It is spread through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes. It can lead to brain damage and even death.

CDC officials last week said the number of cases in 2019 had surpassed the 667 recorded in 2014, an unusually bad year. With cases mounting this early in the year, the country is at risk of surpassing the 963 cases tallied in 1994.

“The fact that over 700 cases of measles have occurred this year in 13 separate outbreaks is an embarrassing state of affairs that was completely predictable and preventable,” said Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Since elimination of measles, most Americans have the luxury of not knowing how a severe an infectious disease measles can be.”

Cases have been confirmed in 22 states this year. Six out of 13 outbreaks occurred in close-knit populations, such as the Orthodox Jewish community in New York. About two thirds of the cases — 474 — have been reported in New York City; Rockland County, New York; and other parts of that state.

Other notable outbreaks were recorded in New Jersey, Michigan, Georgia, Maryland and California counties around Los Angeles and Sacramento.

Nationwide, 66 children have been hospitalized.

The latest outbreaks are linked to travelers who brought measles back from places such as Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines. The disease spread among populations with big pockets of unvaccinated persons.

In response, New York City imposed a mandatory vaccine order, issuing violations and fines for people who refuse, while two colleges in Los Angeles quarantined hundreds of students to deal with the spread of the disease.

Federal officials have spoken about the importance of vaccination in personal and urgent terms.

Both Mr. Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield highlighted their roles as fathers, while Mr. Trump said “vaccinations are so important,” seeming to nudge aside skepticism he expressed years ago about vaccines in large concentrations.

Dr. Redfield said 94 percent of parents do vaccinate their kids, but the CDC is trying to reach those who remain hesitant.

“Vaccines are safe,” Dr. Redfield said. “Vaccines do not cause autism. Vaccine-preventable diseases are dangerous.”

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