Measles on Rise, Officials Urge Vaccinations
ATLANTA (AP) _ Despite a 69 percent increase in U.S. measles cases last year, federal health researchers say elimination of the once-common childhood disease is still possible if young people will get their vaccinations.
The national Centers for Disease Control said Thursday that 2,534 cases of measles were reported in the United States last year, compared with 1,497 in 1983.
It has now been more than six years since then-Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph Califano announced an initiative designed to wipe out the disease in the United States by 1982.
The 1984 numbers are far below those of the pre-vaccination days of the 1950s and early ’60s, when more than 525,000 measles cases were reported each year. ″Still, it’s not the best we’d like to accomplish,″ said Don Stenhouse, a CDC measles specialist.
″We don’t feel the recommended objectives have gone awry,″ Stenhouse said Thursday. ″We just need to concentrate on the individuals who have not received the vaccine.
″We feel we certainly can eliminate indigenous measles within the next year or so.″
A total of 874 cases, or 34 percent, last year were classified as preventable - occurring in someone between 16 months and 29 years old and without measles immunity or a valid reason not to be immunized.
CDC researchers say children under 16 months are too young to be vaccinated effectively, people born before 1956 are assumed to have natural immunity and are not targeted for vaccination, and some people have religious or health reasons why they should not be vaccinated.
Of the cases reported last year, 679, or 27 percent, occurred in children 10-14 years old. Another 650 cases, or 26 percent, were in Americans 15-19.
″School-aged children still comprise the majority of preventable cases,″ the CDC said. ″Further efforts need to be directed at ensuring that all children covered by state school immunization laws are adequately immunized.″
The CDC said 992 cases occurred in people who were believed to be adequately vaccinated. That, Stenhouse said, is to be expected; the vaccine is about 90 percent effective.
If the measles-age population is fully vaccinated, the few people not protected by the vaccine will not be exposed to the disease, he said.
″We have run into more problems now because of group exposures in school settings,″ particularly in colleges, Stenhouse said.
″As students (more widely vaccinated) come out of the current elementary schools, and go on to high school and college, obviously that will improve,″ he said. ″But we hope to improve it more rapidly.″
The CDC has urged that colleges and universities require proof of measles immunization for their students.