New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference declaring a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn in response to a measles outbreak [Shannon Stapleton-Reuters]
Reuters

The number of measles cases in the United States has reached a 25-year peak, propelled by the spread of misinformation about the vaccine that can prevent the disease, federal health officials said on Monday.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 704 cases as of April 26, a 1.3 percent increase since the most recent tally of 695 reported on Wednesday. The vast majority of cases have occurred in children who have not received the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, which confers immunity to the disease, officials said.

“The suffering we are seeing today is completely avoidable,” US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Monday. “We know vaccines are safe because they’re among some of the most studied medical products we have.”

A vocal fringe of US parents refuse to vaccinate their children believing, contrary to scientific evidence, that ingredients in them can cause autism or other disorders.

According to the CDC, 94 percent of children entering kindergarten in the United States in 2017 had received their two doses of the MMR vaccine to protect them from mumps, measles and rubella.

Some 22 states have recorded cases of the extremely contagious and sometimes deadly disease. None of the victims of the recent outbreak have died, but three percent have contracted pneumonia and nine percent have been hospitalised due to complications from the disease, CDC director Robert Redfield said on Monday.

US President Donald Trump urged Americans last week to get vaccinated to prevent the spread of measles, changing course from remarks he made in 2014 when he expressed doubt about giving children government-recommended doses of vaccines.

“The vaccinations are so important. This is really going around now,” Trump said on Friday.

There were 17 measles outbreaks in 2018, but most of the cases were from outbreaks in New York state, New York City, and New Jersey.

The current outbreak has been concentrated in New York City, where officials said more than 390 cases have been recorded since October, mostly among children in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn.

The national outbreak has escalated since 82 people in 2018 and more than 40 people in 2019 brought measles to the US from other countries, most frequently Ukraine, Israel and the Philippines, federal officials said.

Although the virus was eliminated from the country in 2000, meaning it was no longer continually present year round, outbreaks still happen via travellers coming from countries where measles is still common, the CDC says.

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