Officials declared a public health emergency in New York this week over a recent measles outbreak, which has infected more than 285 people there since September. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the New York Department of Health are warning Americans that the illness can take 10 days to show symptoms.
The current New York outbreak is localized to Brooklyn, in particular a neighborhood with a prevalence of unvaccinated kids. The news prompted Mayor Bill de Blasio to issue a controversial mandate requiring residents in four zip codes to get vaccinated within 48 hours. Since many there cite religious reasons for deciding against vaccinations, there is likely to be legal action.
But while New York grapples with its own physical and legal battles, it’s not the only state affected by an outbreak this year. Here is a look at how measles is spreading across the U.S. — and what you need to know about the epidemic overall.
The outbreak has affected over 400 people in 19 states
According to recent data from the CDC, 465 people nationwide have contracted measles this year in 19 different states. The states with outbreaks thus far include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington.
The infection is highly contagious
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies measles as one of the “world’s most contagious diseases” and says that it is spread by coughing, sneezing or close personal contact with someone who is infected. The infection can remain in the air or other surfaces (such as counters or tables) for up to two hours.
The illness is marked by fever and cough
Technically known as rubeola, measles most commonly affects children and begins to show symptoms anywhere from 10 to 14 days after exposure. The hallmark symptoms of the infection — according to the Mayo Clinic — are fever, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, inflamed eyes, a rash and white-blueish spots on the inside of the mouth. Those infected, according to WHO, can be contagious for four days before the rash develops and four days after it disappears.
It mostly disappears on its own
As the illness most commonly disappears on its own in a few weeks, doctors generally recommend over-the-counter fever reducers to treat it. Children who suffer from low levels of Vitamin A can be given a large dose of this to help them eradicate the infection quicker. But there is currently no treatment to get rid of the illness once it begins.
The infection can cause serious long-term effects and (in rare cases) be fatal
The CDC reports that measles can be serious in all age groups, but specifically puts children under the age of five at risk of complications. Although most individuals who contract the infection will experience a full recovery, serious complications can occur. These secondary infections include pneumonia, ear infections and encephalitis, which is a swelling of the brain that can result in convulsions, hearing loss and intellectual disability. In extremely rare cases, this can turn fatal.
The U.S. declared measles eliminated in 2000 — but travelers from abroad and vaccine-hesitancy has led to a resurgence
Measles was once a common illness nationwide, affecting 3 to 4 million people each year, leading to 48,000 hospitalizations, 1,000 cases of encephalitis and 400-500 deaths. Thanks to the introduction of a vaccine, however, measles was declared eliminated by the U.S. in 2000. Four years later, the infection returned to U.S. shores — a result of both travelers carrying the illness stateside as well as an increase in unvaccinated communities. Since then, outbreaks have steadily climbed each year.
Still, overall, the picture is hopeful. While measles still leads to more than 100,000 deaths a year globally, the number continues to decrease as vaccine access improves. According to the CDC, the use of it globally has prevented an estimated 20.4 million deaths between the years of 2000-2016.
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