CDC issues official emergency health alert on measles (Plus: a success story in Ghana)

I’ve been in Seattle at the Pacific Health Summit — a fascinating, alternately frustrating an inspiring experience — and haven’t had much time to blog. I did want to highlight one data point for anyone who has been following the domestic measles outbreaks that have been occurring in the US this year: The CDC has issued an “official health advisory” because of the high number of reported measles infections. Here are the key paragraphs:

The United States is experiencing a high number of reported measles cases in 2011, many of which were acquired during international travel. From January 1 through June 17 this year, 156 confirmed cases of measles were reported to CDC. This is the highest reported number since 1996. Most cases (136) were associated with importations from measles-endemic countries or countries where large outbreaks are occurring. The imported cases involved unvaccinated U.S. residents who recently traveled abroad, unvaccinated visitors to the United States, and people linked to these imported cases. To date, 12 outbreaks (3 or more linked cases) have occurred, accounting for 47% of the 156 cases. Of the total case-patients, 133 (85%) were unvaccinated or had undocumented vaccination status. Of the 139 case-patients who were U.S. residents, 86 (62%) were unvaccinated, 30 (22%) had undocumented vaccination status, 11 (8%) had received 1 dose of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, 11 (8%) had received 2 doses, and 1 (1%) had received 3 (documented) doses.

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 due to our high 2-dose measles vaccine coverage, but it is still endemic or large outbreaks are occurring in countries in Europe (including France, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Switzerland), Africa, and Asia (including India). The increase in measles cases and outbreaks in the United States this year underscores the ongoing risk of importations, the need for high measles vaccine coverage, and the importance of prompt and appropriate public health response to measles cases and outbreaks.

As I write this, I’m at a workshop with Dr. K.O. Antwi-Agyei, the national program manager for immunization at the Ministry of Health in Ghana — and his work there is an example of what has been inspiring: There has not been a single death from measles in Ghana since 2002. The same cannot be said about the UK.

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