Why New York’s Measles Outbreak Is the Worst in Decades

January 8, 2019, 10:26 PM UTC

New York State is in the middle of its worst measles epidemic in decades. Since September, the Empire State has recorded 167 cases of the measles, a highly infectious disease for which there is a widely available vaccine. That makes this the worst year for measles in the state since the 1990s, according to NBC News.

The reason for the current measles outbreak? Health officials believe the cause is a fairly straightforward combination of anti-vaccine propaganda (also known as anti-vax) combined with a lack of enforcement of school requirements that parents must vaccinate their children for contagious, spreadable diseases. Experts also suggest this outbreak, which threatens to become a major epidemic if not contained, may be due to a growing trend among some families to skip out on standard medical care, especially for children. When parents sidestep major vaccinations for their children, it can lower the herd immunity among kids and their peers. Herd immunity—that is, when enough people are vaccinated in a larger group—can prevent the wider spread of a contagious illness, even if some individuals do contract the disease.

Another cause is our widely connected world. Measles was previously all but eradicated in the United States, though international travelers have brought the disease back from other countries where it still thrives in certain communities. In terms of identifying a possible case of measles, symptoms often mimic those of the common cold: fever, muscle pain, runny nose, and sore throat, along with a telltale blotchy red skin rash.

Back in August 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was reportedly monitoring measles outbreaks in at least 21 states, caused by small groups of unvaccinated people.

Measles cases also reached a record high across Europe at the end of 2018.