The United States received its measles elimination status back in 2000 when the World Health Organization declared the country measles-free, making it one of the greatest achievements in public health history. However, due to recent measles outbreaks across the country, the CDC warns that the U.S. is about to lose the esteemed status, reported CNN.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, says that there’s a “reasonable chance” the U.S. could lose its measles elimination status.
“It certainly is incredibly frustrating and upsetting to the public health community that we may lose measles elimination status, because we do have a safe and effective vaccine.”
In order for the WHO to remove the status, there must be a continuously spreading outbreak lasting for at least a year. The first outbreak began in September of 2018 in New York City, causing 600 known cases. Another outbreak in Rockland County, New York, has caused at least 300 cases.
While New York saw the largest outbreak of the disease, 29 other U.S. states have also experienced smaller-scale outbreaks in the past year.
Just this week, the CDC announced another 12 cases of measles, mostly in New York. The health organization will announce whether or not the U.S.’s elimination status will be revoked by the end of September.
Dr. William Schaffner, an adviser to the CDC on vaccine issues, says that it is unlikely that the outbreaks will be contained by the end of September when the CDC will make their decision, adding that he feels “embarrassed” and “chagrined” at the possibility of the U.S. losing its status.
Dr. Paul Spiegel, director of the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins University, is another who views the grim prospect of losing measles elimination status as highly embarrassing, commenting that losing it “is a big deal in terms of reputation and prestige.”
Spiegel added that if the U.S. loses its status, it may have consequences on a global scale, undermining the country’s efforts to convince other nations to vaccinate their citizens and residents.
“If we are not able to take care of our own backyard, how can we tell others what to do?” the director questions.
According to WHO, there were 110,000 measles deaths globally in 2017, most of which occurred among children under the age of 5. In addition to being fatal, the disease can also cause severe disabilities, including blindness and encephalitis, or swelling of the brain.