U.S. narrowly keeps measles elimination status after worst outbreak in quarter-century

U.S. & World

(CNN) — After more than 1,200 measles cases this year, the U.S. was in danger of losing its measles elimination status its held for nearly 20 years.

But on Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the country will keep that distinction.

“We are very pleased that the measles outbreak has ended in New York and that measles is still considered eliminated in the United States. This result is a credit to the cooperative work by local and state health departments, community and religious leaders, other partners, and the CDC,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

“But this past year’s outbreak was an alarming reminder about the dangers of vaccine hesitancy and misinformation. That is why the Trump Administration will continue making it a priority to work with communities and promote vaccination as one of the easiest things you can do to keep you and your family healthy and safe.”

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar

The World Health Organization granted the U.S. its measles elimination status in 2000.

But the WHO can remove that status immediately if a chain of transmission in a given outbreak is sustained for more than 12 months.

Public health experts have said losing that status would have been a black eye on the U.S.

The Department of Health and Human Services‘ announced the country would keep its status the same day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the U.S. has seen the highest number of measles cases in the country since 1992 with more than 1,249 reported between Jan. 1 and Oct. 1.

There have been 22 separate measles outbreaks in 17 states and the number of states reporting sick individuals stands at 31, according to the CDC.

The CDC considers an outbreak as three or more cases during a period of time in one location.

While cases have been reported in 31 states, 75% of measles cases were linked to outbreaks in New York City and New York state, most of which were among unvaccinated children in Orthodox Jewish communities, according to HHS.

Ohio reported its first reported measles case in July.

RELATED: Ohio reports first measles case of 2019; Franklin County to offer vaccination clinics

The Ohio Department of Health director said a young adult from Stark County contracted the virus while visiting another state. The infected person and anyone who came into contact with the patient was quarantined as a precaution.

It is the first confirmed case in Ohio since 2017.

Previously, Ohio’s last recorded measles outbreak was in 2014, when 382 cases were confirmed.

These outbreaks have been traced to unvaccinated travelers who brought measles back from other countries at the beginning of October 2018, according to HHS.

The U.S. is not alone.

Data from the World Health Organization indicates that during the first six months of the year there have been more measles cases reported worldwide than in any year since 2006, according to HHS.

From Jan. 1 – July 31, 182 countries reported 364,808 cases of measles. That increase is part of a global trend seen over the past few years as other countries struggle with achieving and maintaining vaccination rates, health officials said.

And in the last year, the United Kingdom, Greece, Venezuela, and Brazil have lost their measles elimination status.

A significant factor contributing to the outbreaks this year has been misinformation in some communities about the safety of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, health officials said.

“Our Nation’s successful public health response to this recent measles outbreak is a testament to the commitment and effectiveness of state and local health departments, and engaged communities across the country,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield. “CDC encourages Americans to embrace vaccination with confidence for themselves and their families. We want to emphasize that vaccines are safe. They remain the most powerful tool to preserve health and to save lives. The prevalence of measles is a global challenge, and the best way to stop this and other vaccine preventable diseases from gaining a foothold in the U.S. is to accept vaccines.”

CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield

Before the measles vaccine was introduced in the U.S., nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age, according to HHS.

It is estimated three to four million people were infected, and among the 500,000 measles cases reported annually, 48,000 were hospitalized and 500 people died, officials said.

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