As public health officials monitor a measles outbreak in Washington state, the World Health Organization says a separate measles epidemic in Madagascar has killed more than 900 people.
Since the outbreak began in September, the country in East Africa has seen more than 68,000 cases of the highly infectious disease, according to WHO. The organization says 553 people have died and an additional 373 are suspected to have died because of the measles. Babies are most at risk.
Could something like that happen in the U.S.? WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said the high death toll and number of infections has been blamed on a low immunization rate, less than 60 percent, for measles across the island. In the U.S., more than 90 percent of Americans do get recommended immunizations, according to CDC data. So, an outbreak of that size in America would be rare, but health officials are concerned that measles cases could increase with a growing anti-vaccination trend.
People choosing not to vaccinate have become a global health threat in 2019, WHO reported. The CDC recognized that the number of children who aren't being vaccinated by 24 months old has been gradually increasing. Just last week, an Arizona legislative panel endorsed bills that could expand vaccine exemptions for the state's schoolchildren.
Before the measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (chickenpox) vaccine was available in the U.S., about 450 to 500 people died from measles
each year. Alan Melnick, director of public health for Clark County, Washington, told USA TODAY if current outbreaks grew larger and infected infants, it wouldn't be unusual to see more deaths in the U.S., too.
Clark County, a known anti-vaccination hot spot, has identified 65 confirmed cases and two suspected cases of measles since the beginning of the year. Most cases are affecting unvaccinated children younger than 10. So far, no deaths have been reported.
Nearly one in four Clark County kindergarten students during the 2017-18 school year did not get all their immunizations, according to data from the Washington Department of Health. At three schools in the county, more than 40 percent of kindergartners, did not receive all recommended shots before starting school.
There is no specific treatment available for measles, a contagious illness caused by a virus that is spread through the air. People infected develop a red spotted rash that starts inside the mouth and spreads all over the body. Symptoms include fevers as high as 104 degrees, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes.
Measles is so contagious, the CDC says, that 90 percent of unvaccinated people who come in contact with an infected person will get the virus. The measles two-dose vaccine is 97 percent effective against the virus, according to the CDC.