What to know about measles in the US as case count breaks record

Enlarge / A young child, seated in a bed in a clinical setting, who had presented with an extensive rash, which had developed due to a measles infection. The image was captured on day-3 of the rash, which is usually when the rash manifests, beginning on the face, then adopting a more generalized distribution. (credit: CDC)

This year’s tally of measles cases is now the largest seen this century—and it’s only April. As several outbreaks continue to rage around the country with no end in sight, officials fear the disease will once again take root, undoing a public health triumph that was decades in the making.

As of 3pm on Wednesday, April 24, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 695 measles cases across 22 states. That is the highest number of measles cases since the milestone date of 2000, when health officials declared measles eliminated (meaning that there was no longer continuous transmission of the viral illness in the US, though international travelers can continue to import the disease). It’s also the highest number of cases seen since 1994, when there were 958 cases.

The year 1994 is also a milestone. It marked the start of the federally funded “Vaccines for Children” program, which provides vaccines at no cost to children whose parents or guardians may not otherwise be able to afford them. From there, annual measles cases dropped precipitously—448 in 1996, 138 in 1997, and down to a triumphant low of 86 in 2000, the year of the elimination declaration.

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