A 20-year high in measles cases within the United States is being fueled by Americans who travel internationally without having received vaccinations against the virus, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.
As of May 23, officials say there have been 288 measles cases reported to the federal health agency this year - the highest total for that time period since 1994.
“This is not the kind of record we want to break, but should be a wake-up call to travelers and parents to make sure vaccinations are up to date," said Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases.
Imported cases of the highly contagious respiratory disease continue to infect unvaccinated US residents, the CDC said in its report. Home-grown measles in the US were declared eliminated in 2000, according to Reuters.
Overall, 18 states have reported measles cases in 2014. An outbreak in the Philippines was connected to 138 cases in Ohio Amish communities this year, according to health officials.
Measles has caused 43 hospitalizations this year, but no deaths, Schuchat said.
Schuchat added that unvaccinated US residents are a “welcome wagon” for measles brought from overseas. The virus is still common in parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The outbreak in the Philippines led to 32,000 reported measles cases, which caused 41 deaths from January to April 20, she said.
The vast majority – 85 percent – of unvaccinated US residents who contracted measles say they did not get the vaccine for religious, philosophical, or personal reasons, the CDC said.
“It was not because they were too young or had medical reasons like leukemia,” Schuchat said. “These outbreaks illustrate that clusters of people with like-minded beliefs who forgo vaccines can be susceptible to outbreaks when the virus in imported.”
The CDC recommends that infants aged 12 months receive two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. The agency also advises adults who were not immunized as children or who are unsure of their immunization history to get a vaccination.