Global measles cases nearly doubled in one year, researchers say


The United States has recorded 128 cases of measles in 20 jurisdictions this year, according to the CDC.


The number of measles cases worldwide nearly doubled between 2022 and 2023, researchers say, posing a challenge to efforts to achieve and maintain elimination status in many countries.

There have been 171,153 cases worldwide in 2022, according to Dr. Patrick O’Connor of the World Health Organization, who presented the study Saturday at the ESCMID World Congress in Barcelona. Provisional data shows 321,582 cases for 2023 and more than 94,000 so far in 2024, although that number is likely much higher.

Nearly half of this year’s cases occurred in the WHO European Region, with the highest incidence in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Yemen.

The United States has recorded 128 cases of measles in 20 jurisdictions this year as of Friday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the highest number since 2019.

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, “meaning that there is no spread of measles in the country and new cases are only detected when a person contracts measles from abroad and returns,” says the CDC. However, the rapid increase in cases this year poses a threat to the disease’s elimination status, according to the agency.

Measles is a highly contagious airborne disease. This can lead to serious health consequences and even death, especially in young, unvaccinated children.

General symptoms may include fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes, and a rash of red spots. In the United States, about one in five unvaccinated people who contract measles will be hospitalized, according to the CDC. About 1 in 20 children with measles will develop pneumonia, and others may develop a dangerous swelling of the brain called encephalitis. Up to 3 in 1,000 children infected with measles may die from respiratory and neurological complications.

It can also lead to “immune amnesia,” a condition that increases the risk of other infections for weeks or even years.

O’Connor said Saturday that measles vaccination prevented about 57 million deaths between 2000 and 2022.

In the United States, the CDC expects children to receive the first dose of the vaccine that protects against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) between 12 and 15 months of age. Children receive a second injection between 4 and 6 years old.

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The vaccine is considered very effective. One dose is 93% effective against measles and two doses are 97% effective. Vaccinated people can still get sick, but it doesn’t happen often and is usually a milder infection.

The United States has set a vaccination rate goal of 95%, but coverage among kindergartners has fallen below that figure in recent years. By the 2022-2023 school year, only 93.1% of kindergartners in the United States had completed their MMR vaccine series, leaving approximately 250,000 people at risk.

Measles is “one crisis among many,” O’Connor said in his presentation Saturday, with about 45% of outbreaks in fragile and conflict-affected countries.

“Over the past 20 years, significant progress has been made toward the elimination of measles and rubella,” he said in a press release. “In order to consolidate and maintain these gains, we must guarantee high, uniform and equitable routine vaccination coverage; and robust awareness and rapid response to outbreaks.

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