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During the first two months of 2019, 74,000 cases of measles were reported globally. A highly contagious, virus borne illness, measles is transmitted through the air, such as when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
  • Of the cases in early 2019, nearly half occurred in January in the African island country of Madagascar (36,869 cases). The official figure for Madagascar in February was down to 10,328 new cases.
  • Europe and South America have been largely spared from new measles cases in 2019. Scanning the top 20 affected countries last month, the Czech Republic was ranked 13th globally with 49 cases; Brazil was 20th with 21 cases.
In an ideal environment and with ideal social conditions, measles can be prevented through a two-step vaccination developed in the US during the 1950s and 1960s, the first dose being administered at 12-15 months of age and the second between ages of four and six. Today, three factors are commonly attributed to outbreaks:
  • The anti-vaccination movement, which has long been bolstered by a (now retracted) study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield published in 1998 by the British journal Lancet linking the measles vaccine to autism. 
  • Social factors, including migration, urbanization, and an increasing number of people traveling abroad has helped the disease spread.
  • Re-emergence in impoverished areas lacking adequate health systems, hygiene, and access to safe and nutritious food and water. 

The same governmental authorities reporting on the continuing measles outbreaks also play lead roles in prevention and treatment as a public good. Measles outbreaks increase treatment costs and remain one of the notable causes of infant mortality in developing countries, a double impetus for managing this preventable disease. Government and health authorities in developed countries, while reporting far fewer cases, are still on high alert.

  • For example, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only began urging a two-dose vaccination regimen for measles in 1989. This suggests that even though the mortality rate for measles in the US declined by 84 percent between 2000 and 2016—and other factors beyond the vaccine will likely help keep that figure low—Americans who were treated with only one dose as children may still be vulnerable to measles outbreaks.

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