By Dennis Thompson
MONDAY, April 29, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- As the once-vanquished measles virus continues to spread through U.S. communities, federal health officials on Monday urged up-to-date vaccination for children and some adults.
There are now 704 reported cases of measles across 22 states, mostly affecting people who have not been vaccinated against the virus, said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
"This is the greatest number of cases reported in the United States since measles was eliminated" from the country in 2000, Azar noted. Many outbreaks are occurring in areas with large numbers of "anti-vaxxers" -- parents who erroneously believe that childhood vaccines are unsafe.
But this week marks the 25th annual National Infant Immunization Week. So, a group of public health officials, Azar included, used the opportunity to urge parents again to have their children protected against all vaccine-preventable diseases.
"Most of us have never seen the deadly consequences that vaccine-preventable diseases can have on a child, family or community, and that's the way we want to keep it," Azar said in a Monday media briefing. "Vaccine-preventable diseases belong in the history books, not our emergency rooms."
At the same time, officials tried to downplay concerns regarding the lasting effectiveness of the measles vaccine in adults born before 1989.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that some adults be revaccinated with at least one dose of live attenuated measles vaccine. The recommendation is intended in particular to protect adults who may have received the killed measles vaccine between 1963 and 1967 and was not effective, the CDC says on its website.
But on Monday, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said that most adults should feel reassured that the shot they got as a kid or young adult is still protective.
"Most adults are protected against measles. That's what the science says," Messonnier said. "That includes people who were born before measles vaccine was recommended, and even folks who only got a single dose."
The CDC is encouraging that certain adults at high risk talk with their doctors about whether they need a measles booster, Messonnier said. These include international travelers, health care workers, and folks living in communities that are in the throes of an outbreak.
"We're really urging those adults to talk with their health care provider to make sure they are protected against measles, but other adults should be really reassured that the data strongly supports they are already protected against measles," Messonnier said.
The CDC also hasn't seen signs of waning immunity among adults, Messonnier said, after being asked about reports that some people have tested with decreased numbers of measles antibodies.
"Immunological tests can be helpful to a physician, but in general the documentation of vaccination trumps any immunological test," Messonnier said.
Measles is incredibly contagious and can be very damaging to young children, said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield.
Of the current cases, 9% have been hospitalized and 3% have developed pneumonia, Redfield said. There have been no deaths so far.
Two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine are 97% effective in preventing measles, and one dose is 93% effective, Redfield said.
More than 94% of parents vaccinate their children, Redfield said, but roughly 1.3% -- 100,000 children -- in this country under the age of 2 have not been vaccinated against measles.
Most of this year's measles cases are the result of three major outbreaks, one in Washington state near Portland, Ore., and two in New York, Messonnier said.
Meanwhile, quarantine orders remain in effect for nearly 700 students and staff at two Los Angeles universities who may have been exposed to measles recently.
"The good news is that last week the Washington State Department of Health declared their outbreak over," Messonnier said. "However, the outbreaks in New York City and New York state are the largest and longest-lasting since measles elimination in 2000. The longer these outbreaks continue, the greater the chance that measles will again get a foothold in the United States."
A factor in the New York outbreaks is misinformation being spread in some communities about the safety and effectiveness of the MMR vaccine, Messonnier said.
"Sadly, these communities are being targeted with inaccurate and misleading information about vaccines," Messonnier said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about measles.
SOURCES: April 29, 2019 media briefing with: U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar; Nancy Messonnier, M.D., director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases; Robert Redfield, M.D., director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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