With the number of measles cases up nationwide, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is encouraging residents to make sure they’re vaccinated against the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 129 cases of measles have been reported in 13 states so far this year, the highest number in the first four months of a year since 1996. Twenty-nine of those cases were in New York state.
Last year New York City saw 58 cases of measles, the highest number in a decade.
Most of the recent cases were triggered by travelers who caught the virus abroad and spread it in the United States among unvaccinated people. Many of the travelers had been to the Philippines, where a recent measles epidemic has caused at least 20,000 illnesses.
Since 2000, the highly contagious disease has been considered eliminated in the United
States, aside from occasional small outbreaks sparked by overseas travelers. For most of the last decade, the nation was seeing only about 60 cases a year.
But since 2010, the average has been nearly 160.
“This increase in cases may be a ‘new normal,’ unfortunately,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Among the 58 cases reported from California, at least 11 were infected in doctor’s offices, hospitals or other health-care settings. New York City health officials say two of their 26 cases were infected in medical facilities.
On Thursday, a medical journal — The Annals of Internal Medicine — released a commentary warning doctors to prevent that kind of situation.
“We must ensure that our facilities do not become centers for secondary measles transmission,” wrote Dr. Julia Shaklee Sammons, an infectious disease specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
She urged doctors who suspect a measles case to place the patient in an isolation room with special ventilation that keeps the air from circulating around the building. Doctors and nurses should also wear surgical masks or respirators to protect themselves from getting infected, and to ask the infected patient to wear a surgical mask too.
Before a vaccine became available about 50 years ago, nearly all children got measles by their 15th birthday. In those days, nearly 500 Americans died from measles each year.
A bad resurgence of measles hit the nation in 1989 to 1991, when 55,000 cases were reported. In reaction, the federal government started a program in 1994 to pay for vaccines for kids who are uninsured, in the Medicaid program, or meet other criteria.
Today, the measles vaccination rate is above 95 percent for children of kindergarten age. But there has been a small but growing trend of parents seeking exemptions for their children from school-entry vaccination requirements for religious or philosophical reasons. Other parents have tried to space out, or delay, measles vaccinations because of fears — since widely debunked — that the shot will trigger autism or other problems.