Measles Is on the Rise: Outbreak Grows to Over 1,200 Cases in 30 States, While U.K. Loses Measles-Free Status

Due to more people refusing to be vaccinated, measles cases are on the rise. Since January 1, there have been over 1,200 cases of measles across 30 states. But it's not just the United States—the United Kingdom just lost its "measles-free" designation from the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the period from January 1 to August 15, 2019, there have been 1,203 individual cases of measles across 30 states. This is the greatest number of measles cases in the United States since 1992.

The CDC previously declared measles eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. To be considered "eliminated," it means there's been no continuous disease transmission for at least 12 months.

There's been a similar outbreak in the U.K., leading the WHO to revoke the country's measles-free status, originally awarded in 2015. In the first quarter of 2019, the BBC reports 231 confirmed cases across the United Kingdom.

The majority of new measles cases are among unvaccinated people. Though experts recommend a 95 percent vaccination rate for "herd immunity"—or, in other words, the amount of people who need to be vaccinated to keep those who cannot be vaccinated, due to allergies or other health concerns, safe—the CDC says only 91.1 percent of children aged 19-35 months have received the measles vaccine.

According to the BBC, the drop in vaccination rate is due partially to people no longer thinking measles worth getting vaccinated for. During the 1990s and early 2000s, measles was so rare, many people thought the vaccine wasn't worth it unless they were travelling to another country where the disease was more prevalent. But, as the CDC says, the reason measles was so rare in the United States in the first place is because of a highly successful vaccination program.

baby with measles
There has been an increase in measles around the world. This baby was a victim of the recent outbreak in the Philippines, which had over 31,000 measles cases between January and April of this year. The outbreak was responsible for over 400 deaths. Ezra Acayan/Getty

But despite the safety and success rates of the vaccine, another reason measles is on the rise is anti-vaccine messaging.

"Measles is a serious illness, people are miserable for a week and very contagious while sick," Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County, Oregon deputy health officer told KATU. "The vaccine is safe and effective; it keeps kids healthy and in school. Fully vaccinated kids also protect their siblings, friends and teachers."

Many anti-vaccine activists cite a now-discredited 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield's study claimed a link between the MMR vaccine—for measles, mumps and rubella—and autism.

However, the study has been repeatedly debunked; furthermore, investigators also discovered a conflict of interest, as Wakefield's research was funded by a lawyer looking to sue MMR manufacturers.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has criticized the anti-vaccine movement during a visit to a hospital in southwest England.

"The UK generally has a great record on fighting measles, but for the first time we're suddenly going in the wrong direction," Johnson said, according to Reuters. "I'm afraid people have just been listening to that superstitious mumbo-jumbo on the internet, all that anti-vax stuff, and thinking that the MMR vaccine is a bad idea. That's wrong, please get your kids vaccinated."

"It's not just the right thing for them, but also of course its the right thing for the whole population," Johnson added. "It might not be your kid that gets it, it could be somebody else's."

Symptoms of measles include runny nose, cough, fever and a whole-body rash. According to the CDC, measles is so contagious that if one person has the disease, nine out of ten unvaccinated people around them will also be infected. Measles can also lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and death.