April 25 (UPI) — New measles cases in the United States this year have surpassed the highest number on record since the disease was declared eliminated nearly 20 years ago, health officials said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday it has recorded 695 cases in 22 states. The previous record was 694 in 2014.
“This is the greatest number of cases reported in the United States since measles was eliminated from this country in 2000,” the CDC said in a statement.
Federal health officials attributed the record-setting number to a few large outbreaks, specifically in New York and Washington state.
“The longer these outbreaks continue, the greater the chance measles will again get a sustained foothold in the United States,” the CDC said.
The recent outbreaks began when non-vaccinated travelers visited foreign countries and returned with the ailment, risking infection in their communities.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement measles is not a harmless childhood illness and the disease is “avoidable.”
“We have the ability to safely protect our children and our communities,” he said. “Vaccines are a safe, highly effective public health solution that can prevent this disease. The measles vaccines are among the most extensively studied medical products we have, and their safety has been firmly established over years in some of the largest vaccine studies ever undertaken.”
The World Health Organization said this month the number of worldwide measles cases increased 300 percent during the first three months of the year compared to the same time period last year. The WHO said “vaccine hesitancy,” the “reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines,” is one of 10 threats to global health in 2019.
Azar said the Department of Health and Human Services will start a campaign next week, during National Infant Immunization Week, to educate the public that vaccines are safe.
“All Americans would be safer and healthier if we received measles vaccines on the recommended schedule,” he said.
The CDC will again update its measles figures Monday.