The number of countries grappling with disruptive measles outbreaks rose to 37 last year, a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Thursday, as officials warn the global fight against the disease has taken a toll. struggling to recover following the COVID-19 crisis. 19 pandemic. Measles can be fatal, especially in children, but it can be prevented with a routine vaccine.
This represents a 68% increase from 2021, when 22 countries reported large outbreaks, according to new data from the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Four regions have seen significant outbreaks, mainly in Africa or the Eastern Mediterranean.
Measles is one of the most contagious airborne diseases known to infect humans. According to the CDC, up to 9 in 10 unimmunized people will become infected after being exposed, with the infectious virus lingering in the air for up to two hours.
Measles can lead to hospitalizations, death or a range of complications such as blindness or brain damage.
An estimated 9,232,300 people worldwide were infected and 136,200 died from measles last year, according to the report’s authors. Although this figure remains well below the more than 36 million cases estimated worldwide in 2000, it represents more than a million more infections than the 2021 tally.
“This is actually a backlog of people who have not been vaccinated against measles. The COVID-19 pandemic has added enormous pressure to health systems that were already struggling to provide routine vaccinations ” Cynthia Hatcher of the CDC said in an interview. Hatcher leads the agency’s measles elimination team for the African region.
It is now estimated that only 81% of the global population has received the first dose of a measles vaccine, compared to 86% in 2019. In low-income countries, vaccination coverage has fallen from 71% in 2019 to 66% in 2022.
Hatcher spoke with CBS News on the sidelines of a World Health Organization meeting on meningitis, measles, rubella, yellow fever and tetanus in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo.
“Being in this room and listening to countries talk about how many vaccine-preventable diseases they are battling at one time, it is clear that while the pandemic is largely over, systems have not fully recovered ” Hatcher said.
Last year’s caseload is approaching the estimated 9,828,400 infections in 2019. That year marked a global resurgence of the virus to some of the highest levels in years, ending decades of efforts to to eradicate transmission.
Hatcher said changes in precautions and travel during the COVID-19 pandemic likely contributed to the temporary drop in cases in 2020. The massive increase in 2019 also could have temporarily dampened transmission, Hatcher said.
“Many people, especially children, have been exposed to the measles virus and would have some level of immunity due to infection. This is obviously not what we want, due to the risk of complications and deaths linked to the infection,” she said.
Now, as cases mount, officials worry that the rise in measles portends other growing problems stemming from gaps caused by the pandemic.
“When we talk about measles, we’re talking about a vaccine that should be administered through the routine health care system,” Hatcher said, describing the rise as “a canary in a coal mine.”
“We also need to understand that these health systems are probably not providing other essential health services,” she said.
Measles in the United States last year
The global rise in measles cases comes as health officials work to reverse a years-long decline in routine vaccinations in the United States.
Vaccination exemptions have reached theamong kindergartners, the CDC reported, meaning that about 250,000 kindergartners are at risk of becoming infected with measles during the final school year.
The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine used in the United States – known as the MMR vaccine – is estimated to be 93% effective after one dose and 97% effective after two doses, according to the CDC.
The number of measles cases reported by the CDC in the United States increased from 49 in 2021 to 121 in 2022. Forty-one cases have been reported so far in 2023.
Authorities had also warned before last summer of a potential resurgence in cases, as travel rebounded in the wake of the pandemic.. A large epidemic in closed schools there earlier this year.
“There were several measles outbreaks last year, and they were all linked to imports from countries experiencing outbreaks,” Hatcher said.
Cases remain below the previous peak inwho was ranked among the in the United States since the virus was declared “eliminated” from the country in 2000.
Hatcher said the 2019 increase in the United States was linked to outbreaks abroad, combined with the spread of the virus to a large unvaccinated group.
“It only took one exposure for this to really spread throughout the community,” she said.