The number of measles outbreaks in the United States in the first five months of this year reached a level that hasn't been seen for two decades.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially reported 288 measles cases from Jan. 1 to May 23, nearly all of which tie back to international travel by unvaccinated individuals. According to the Associated Press, the CDC reported 307 total cases this year, which makes it more than any entire year since 1996.
Shakeithia Roberts holds her son, Jermaine Roberts , as pediatrician Amanda Porro M.D. administers a measles vaccination during a visit to the Miami Children's Hospital on May 16, 2014 in Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
“The current increase in measles cases is being driven by unvaccinated people, primarily U.S. residents, who got measles in other countries, brought the virus back to the United States and spread to others in communities where many people are not vaccinated,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, said in a statement. “Many of the clusters in the U.S. began following travel to the Philippines where a large outbreak has been occurring since October 2013.”
Of those who contracted the disease, 85 percent said they did not vaccinate for religious, philosophical or personal reasons, according to the CDC.
“Many U.S. health care providers have never seen or treated a patient with measles because of the nation’s robust vaccination efforts and our rapid response to outbreaks,” Schuchat said.
One of the largest incidents of outbreak began in an Amish community in Ohio last month:
Many other cases were seen in California and New York City, with a significant number of the infections spreading at medical facilities in both areas.
In response, doctors emphasized the need for suspected measles patients to be isolated with special ventilation and urged precaution on the part of doctors and nurses.
"We must ensure that our facilities do not become centers for secondary measles transmission," Dr. Julia Shaklee Sammons, an infectious disease specialist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, wrote.
Symptoms of measles, which occur seven to 12 days after exposure to the virus, include fever and rash and could also come with cough, runny nose or pink eye.
Before a vaccine became available about 50 years ago, nearly all children got measles by their 15th birthday. In those days, nearly 500 Americans died from measles each year.
A bad resurgence of measles hit the nation in 1989 to 1991, when 55,000 cases were reported. That flood of cases was blamed on a widespread failure to vaccinate uninsured children.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.