Health officials say this year’s U.S. measles epidemic has surpassed 1,000 illnesses.
It’s already the highest in 27 years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated the count Wednesday, saying 1,001 illnesses have been reported since the beginning of the year. Most are from outbreaks in New York in Orthodox Jewish communities.
The nation last saw this many cases in 1992, when more than 2,200 were reported.
Once common in the U.S., measles became rare after vaccination campaigns that started in the 1960s. A decade ago, there were fewer than 100 cases a year.
Overall vaccination rates have remained fairly high, but outbreaks have been happening in communities where parents have refused recommended shots for their children.
“What’s causing these outbreaks is lack of vaccination,” said Dr. Mark Roberts, chair of health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
Illnesses have been reported in 26 states, but the vast majority are in New York City.
The city’s outbreak, which began last October, is already the largest local measles outbreak in the U.S. in nearly 30 years. It started when some unvaccinated children visited Israel, where a measles outbreak is occurring, and came back to New York.
More than 500 cases have been diagnosed in two Brooklyn neighborhoods – Williamsburg and Borough Park – and mainly among unvaccinated children in Orthodox Jewish communities. Forty-two have been hospitalized, including 12 treated in intensive care units.
More than 25,000 doses of vaccine have been given to children and teenagers in those two neighborhoods since October.
Some have been motivated by a city order issued in April that all children and adults who live in four Brooklyn ZIP codes be vaccinated or face fines up to $1,000. City officials say 123 people have received summonses for not complying with the order.
The city health department has put 400 people to work on the outbreak, and forged new relationships with community organizations to make a better case for vaccinations.
The officials believe it’s all paying off. New measles diagnoses dropped from 173 last month to 60 this month.
“I’m confident that the work that we have put in place … put us on the right trajectory to bring this outbreak to an end soon,” said Dr. Oxiris Barbot, New York City’s health commissioner.
Some health experts see the current outbreak as a sign that other vaccine-preventable illnesses could worsen.
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