Measles Cases In The U.S. Reach Highest Count In 25 Years Federal health officials released the latest national measles count Monday. Measles has been reported in 22 states.

Measles Cases In The U.S. Reach Highest Count In 25 Years

Measles Cases In The U.S. Reach Highest Count In 25 Years

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Federal health officials released the latest national measles count Monday. Measles has been reported in 22 states.


Federal health officials are increasingly alarmed about the spread of measles around the country. They're urging parents to vaccinate their kids in the face of record-setting outbreaks. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has the details.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: At least 704 cases of measles have now been reported in 22 states. And Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says that's the most measles in the United States in 25 years.


ALEX AZAR: We are very concerned about the recent troubling rise in cases of measles, which was declared eliminated from our country in 2000. Vaccine-preventable diseases belong in the history books, not our emergency rooms.

STEIN: Most of the measles cases are from outbreaks in Washington state and New York. The Washington outbreak has subsided. But measles is still spreading in two outbreaks in New York, one in Brooklyn and the other about an hour north of Manhattan. Those are the largest and longest measles outbreaks since the disease was eliminated in 2000. And hundreds of college students have been quarantined because of measles in California. Why is measles back like this?


AZAR: While most parents are getting their children vaccinated, the vast majority of these cases involve children who have not been vaccinated.

STEIN: And have gotten exposed to measles by people who caught the virus in countries like Ukraine, Israel and the Philippines, where big outbreaks are underway and have brought the highly contagious measles virus into communities with lots of unvaccinated kids. Here's CDC Director Robert Redfield.

ROBERT REDFIELD: Measles is incredibly contagious. A person who has measles can make other people sick four days before they get a rash. If an infected person enters a room of 10 unvaccinated people, nine of them will get measles.

STEIN: Most will recover. But there's no way to treat measles, and it can cause severe complications. So far this year, about 3% of people with measles have ended up with pneumonia; 9% have been hospitalized. No one has died. But Health and Human Services Secretary Azar says that could happen.


AZAR: Most of us have never seen the deadly consequences that vaccine-preventable diseases can have on a child, family or a community, and that's the way we want to keep it.

STEIN: So federal, state and local health officials are racing to counter misinformation that's apparently being targeted at some communities about the measles vaccine. Nancy Messonnier directs the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. She says the measles vaccine is highly effective and safe.

NANCY MESSONNIER: We have definitely seen misinformation and myths about vaccines being sent to communities susceptible to that misinformation. And these vulnerable communities are the communities in which we're seeing these outbreaks right now.

STEIN: Like Orthodox Jewish communities in New York. Messonnier worries that if the outbreaks aren't brought under control soon, it could have longterm implications for the country.

MESSONNIER: The longer these outbreaks continue, the greater the chance that measles will again get a foothold in the United States.

STEIN: So officials are trying to counter the misinformation, and some lawmakers are calling for the elimination of rules that allow parents to opt out of getting their kids vaccinated. Rob Stein, NPR News.


Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.