NEW YORK (AP) -
Health officials are worried about recent U.S. measles outbreaks that so far
have caused more illnesses than at the same point of any year since 1996.
Authorities say 129
cases in 13 states were reported by mid-April, the bulk of them in
California and New York City. Most were triggered by travelers who caught
the virus abroad and spread it in the United States among unvaccinated
people. Many of the travelers had been to the Philippines, where a recent
measles epidemic has caused at least 20,000 illnesses.
The U.S. numbers
remain relatively tiny, but officials are worried to see case counts
Since 2000, the
highly contagious disease has been considered eliminated in the United
States, aside from occasional small outbreaks sparked by overseas travelers.
For most of the last decade, the nation was seeing only about 60 cases a
But since 2010, the
average has been nearly 160.
“This increase in
cases may be a ‘new normal,’ unfortunately,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an
infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Contributing to the
problem: Decades of measles vaccination campaigns have been so successful
that many doctors have never seen a case, don’t realize how contagious it
is, and may not take necessary steps to stop it from spreading.
Among the 58 cases
reported from California, at least 11 were infected in doctor’s offices,
hospitals or other health-care settings, according to a report released
Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York City
health officials say two of their 26 cases were infected in medical
“It’s a shock to
younger physicians that their own waiting room or emergency room is where
people can get measles,” said the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat.
Also on Thursday, a
medical journal - the Annals of Internal Medicine - released a commentary
warning doctors to prevent that kind of situation.
“We must ensure
that our facilities do not become centers for secondary measles
transmission,” wrote Dr. Julia Shaklee Sammons, an infectious disease
specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
She urged doctors
who suspect a measles case to place the patient in an isolation room with
special ventilation that keeps the air from circulating around the building.
Doctors and nurses should also wear surgical masks or respirators to protect
themselves from getting infected, and to ask the infected patient to wear a
surgical mask too.
The measles virus
spreads easily through the air, and in closed rooms. Infected droplets can
linger for up to two hours after the sick person leaves.
It causes a fever,
runny nose, cough and a rash all over the body. In rare cases, measles can
be deadly, and is particularly dangerous for children. Infection can also
cause pregnant women to have a miscarriage or premature birth.
Before a vaccine
became available about 50 years ago, nearly all children got measles by
their 15th birthday. In those days, nearly 500 Americans died from measles
A bad resurgence of
measles hit the nation in 1989 to 1991, when 55,000 cases were reported.
That flood of cases was blamed on a widespread failure to vaccinate
In reaction, the
federal government started a program in 1994 to pay for vaccines for kids
who are uninsured, in the Medicaid program, or meet other criteria.
In a report
released Thursday, CDC officials estimated that the program and other
childhood vaccination efforts will prevent 322 million illnesses and 732,000
premature deaths over the course of the lifetimes of children born in the
years 1994 through 2013.
Wrapped into that
estimate are 71 million measles cases, nearly 9 million measles
hospitalizations and 57,000 measles deaths.
There has been no
measles deaths reported in the U.S. since 2003. “But the way we’re going, we
feel it (another) is inevitable,” Schuchat said.
Today, the measles
vaccination rate is above 95 percent for children of kindergarten age. But
there has been a small but growing trend of parents seeking exemptions for
their children from school-entry vaccination requirements for religious or
philosophical reasons. Other parents have tried to space out, or delay,
measles vaccinations because of fears that the shot will trigger autism or
are more common in communities where such beliefs are more common, experts
say. “It’s often concentrated there. Folks who think similarly tend to live
in the same neighborhood or attend the same religious organization,”
The CDC national
tally may already be outdated. Also on Thursday, Ohio officials announced a
new cluster of 13 suspected cases in rural Knox County. At least three
traveled to the Philippines last month on a religious humanitarian mission.
About 17 percent of
U.S. cases this year were vaccinated. Health officials say that although the
vaccine is very effective, it’s not perfect.