New York City is currently grappling with a measles outbreak. Health officials have identified 16 cases of the highly contagious infectious disease, resulting in at least six hospitalizations, and are now warning unvaccinated individuals that they need to get their shots.
And New York isn’t the only place where measles — which was once so rare that it was virtually eradicated in the U.S. back in 2000 — is cropping up again. Within the past two months, health officials have also identified cases in the Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, and Dallas areas. Measles have also recently been reported in suburban areas in Connecticut and Illinois.
Just one case of measles can pose a huge public health threat, since it has the potential to be transmitted quickly. It can spread through the air when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. For instance, last month, thousands of California commuters were potentially exposed to the disease after an unvaccinated man with the measles rode public transportation.
Many of the measles outbreaks here in the U.S. originate after an unvaccinated individual has traveled abroad and contracted the disease there. Then, when they return to this country, they can spread measles among pockets of other unvaccinated people. This isn’t an issue if most people simply get the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. That’s why San Francisco didn’t experience a larger outbreak after the recent public transportation scare there — the rates of MMR vaccination in that city are high.