The number of measles cases recorded across the USA rose by almost 100 last week as the annual total continued its march toward record levels, federal health officials reported Monday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 465 cases have been confirmed in 19 states in 2019, the second-highest total since measles was declared eliminated in the USA almost two decades ago.
The numbers are up sharply from just a week ago, when the total number of cases stood at 387 in 15 states. There were 372 cases last year; the highest total since 2000 was 667 in 2014.
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The surge has been fueled in part by the anti-vaccination movement - most people who contract measles have not been vaccinated, the CDC said. If one person has the disease, up to 90% of the people close to that person can become infected, the CDC warned.
Ogbonnaya Omenka, an assistant professor at Butler University who has a doctorate in public health, said the increase is alarming but won't necessarily continue. Public health professionals work behind the scenes to tackle these issues, he said.
"The numbers serve as a kick in the butt that says, hey, we probably should start paying attention to vaccination again," he told USA TODAY. "One of the most challenging aspects of public health is balancing between individual liberty, for people who don't want the vaccine for whatever reason, and what is best for everyone."
More: There are nearly 400 reported cases of measles in the USA. What are states doing about it?
Most of the U.S. cases this year involve 17 outbreaks - defined as three or more localized cases - including some underway in New York, New Jersey, Washington, California and Michigan, the CDC said. The outbreaks are linked to travelers who brought measles back from countries including Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines, the CDC said.
Three outbreaks in New York state, New York City and New Jersey contributed to most of the cases. They occurred primarily among unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities, the CDC said. New York legislators proposed a bill that would end religious and all other nonmedical exemptions to vaccinations for school-age children.
"The religious communities that I've spoken to in no way prevent people from getting vaccinated," New York state Sen. David Carlucci said. "This (bill) would take any of that misconception out of the puzzle."
More: Facts alone don't sway anti-vaxxers. What does?
Similar legislation has been proposed in New Jersey. Only California, Mississippi and West Virginia have such laws.
There is some pushback. Lawyer Patricia Finn represents clients who have been injured by childhood vaccines. She specializes in cases involving religious and medical exemptions to vaccinations.
"The pharmaceutical companies are dominating the media," Finn said. "They're scaring people."
More: Anti-vaxxers open door for measles, mumps, other old-time diseases back from near extinction
Common measles symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough and a rash that can spread across the entire body. A very small number of those infected can develop pneumonia, swelling of the brain or other serious symptoms. Measles can cause pregnant women to deliver prematurely.
In Sacramento, California, a medical center sent about 200 patients letters last month saying they might have been exposed to measles after a girl who visited the emergency department was diagnosed with the infection.
The World Health Organization described the disease as a prominent cause of death among young children, despite the availability of an effective vaccine. More than 110,000 people, mostly children, died of measles worldwide in 2017.
The last U.S. measles death on record was in 2015.
Contributing: Rochel Leah Goldblatt, Robert Brum and Deena Yellin, Rockland/Westchester Journal News
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Booming measles cases rocket toward record: Up nearly 100 from last week