With End of New York Outbreak, United States Keeps Measles Elimination Status

Atlanta, GA–The United States has maintained its measles elimination status of nearly 20 years. The New York State Department of Health declared on October 3 the end of the state’s nearly year-long outbreak that had put the U.S. at risk of losing its measles elimination status.

The CDC confirmed 1,249 cases of measles between January 1 and October 4, 2019. This year marks the greatest number of measles cases in the country since 1992. While cases have been reported in 31 states, 75% of measles cases were linked to outbreaks in New York City and New York state, most of which were among unvaccinated children in Orthodox Jewish communities. These outbreaks have been traced to unvaccinated travelers who brought measles back from other countries at the beginning of October 2018.

Since measles outbreaks continue to occur in countries around the world, there is always a risk of measles importations into the U.S. When measles is imported into a highly vaccinated community, outbreaks either do not happen or are usually small. However, if measles is introduced into an under-vaccinated community, it can spread quickly and it can be difficult to control. Measles elimination status is lost immediately if a chain of transmission in a given outbreak is sustained for more than 12 months.

In the last year, the United Kingdom, Greece, Venezuela, and Brazil have lost their measles elimination status. Data from the World Health Organization indicates that during the first six months of the year there have been more measles cases reported worldwide than in any year since 2006. From January 1 – July 31, 2019, 182 countries reported 364,808 cases of measles. That increase is part of a global trend seen over the past few years as other countries struggle with achieving and maintaining vaccination rates.

Before the measles vaccine was introduced in the U.S., nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age. It is estimated three to four million people were infected, and among the 500,000 measles cases reported annually, 48,000 were hospitalized and 500 people died.