Measles outbreaks make 2018 a near-record year for U.S.

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By Maggie Fox

Health officials in one county in Washington have declared a public health emergency because of an outbreak of measles that has infected 22 people so far. An outbreak among Orthodox Jews has led to 177 cases in New York, helping make 2018 the second-worst year for measles since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The outbreaks are sparked by travelers who bring the virus back from other countries, as the virus finds fuel in pockets of unvaccinated people, the CDC says.

“In 2018, 349 individual cases of measles were confirmed in 26 states and the District of Columbia. This is the second-greatest number of annual cases reported since measles was eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. (The greatest was 667 cases reported in 2014),” the CDC says in its latest update on measles.

The worst year was 2014, with 667 cases.

The outbreaks in New York and Washington state began last fall, but they’re still going on. Clark County, bordering Oregon in southwestern Washington, has reported 22 cases. Oregon officials had to warn fans who attended a Portland Trail Blazers game earlier this month about the risk of catching the virus from patient who was in the arena while contagious.

People who are fully vaccinated against measles have very little risk of becoming infected. The vaccine provides upwards of 95 percent protection. But measles is one of the most infectious viruses known and will infect 90 percent of people who breathe it in.

Clark County will start making robo-calls Tuesday to people who can be identified and tracked down, to warn them of the risk. Kids at more than a dozen schools and passengers who passed through the Portland airport are among those who may have been exposed.

On both coasts, the outbreaks have been fueled by communities that have resisted vaccination for years. Vaccination rates have fallen in Washington state. In 2015, 77 percent of kids were completely vaccinated, but that dropped to 75.7 percent in 2016, according to state data. Clark county falls at the lower end, although some counties have vaccination rates of below 70 percent.