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Parents have reportedly been having “measles parties.” Getty Images

The United States is currently experiencing one of the worst years of measles outbreaks in recent history.

As of April 15, 2019, there have been 555 individual cases in 19 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.

This is the second greatest number of U.S. cases since the disease was declared eliminated back in 2000.

In New York City, the measles outbreak is the worst since 1991, with 285 cases as of April 8. And this cluster is just one of seven outbreaks currently taking place in the United States.

Other outbreak sites include Rockland County in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Washington, along with Santa Cruz County and Butte County in California, according to the CDC.

Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Texas, and Washington have all reported measles activity this year as well.

The current outbreaks have been triggered by travelers who caught the disease abroad and brought it back home where it spread.

“Every year, unvaccinated travelers (Americans or foreign visitors) get measles while they are in other countries and bring measles into the United States. They can spread measles to other people who are not protected against measles, which sometimes leads to outbreaks,” the CDC states on its website.

The ongoing measles outbreak in New York City has been especially virulent.

Last week, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot, along with other city officials, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, confirmed that they were worried parents had reverted back to having “measles parties.”

“We are concerned about families having measles parties,” Barbot said in a press conference.

“Back in the day, people were having parties to expose their kids to chickenpox, to measles, and we live in a different world now. There are many more people who are living with chronic diseases who are surviving cancer, so we don’t want children or adults to be unnecessarily exposed to measles because there are serious consequences to that,” Barbot said.

The NYC Health Department has declared a public health emergency and ordered that unvaccinated people living, working, or residing in certain ZIP codes get vaccinated in 48 hours. Those with medical issues would be exempt.

The health department will then check the vaccination records of anyone who’s been in contact with a person who has the disease. If the person exposed hasn’t received their vaccinations, they could be subject to a $1,000 fine.

“Measles is a dangerous, potentially deadly disease that can easily be prevented with vaccine,” Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio said in a statement.

“When people choose not to get their children vaccinated, they are putting their children and others — such as pregnant women, people on chemotherapy, and the elderly — at risk of contracting measles,” she said.

The New York outbreak was started after an unvaccinated child contracted the disease abroad and then returned back to the United States.

This is an extremely common way for outbreaks to start, especially in areas with large pockets of unvaccinated people.

Although measles hasn’t been a major threat in the United States for nearly 20 years, it remains a common disease in parts of Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa.

“Measles was actually eliminated in the United States in 2000 thanks to a highly-effective vaccination program. However, it is still common worldwide in other countries. Because travel abroad is common, if the virus has been introduced into our communities, then the infection quickly spreads,” Dr. Megan Berman, an internal medicine physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch, told Healthline.

In recent years, travelers have contracted the virus from England, France, Germany, India, the Philippines, and Vietnam, says the CDC.

Currently, Israel, Ukraine, and the Philippines are experiencing large measles outbreaks, according to the CDC’s Travel Health Notices. Italy, Serbia, Japan, and Greece — among others — recently experienced outbreaks as well.

Before you travel abroad, it’s imperative to get vaccinated against the measles. The vaccine is up to 97 percent effective at preventing transmission.

The CDC recommends infants between ages 6 and 11 months receive one dose of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. Children 12 months and older — in addition to teenagers and adults — should take two doses for full protection.

If you haven’t gotten the vaccine, have a compromised immune system, or plan to travel with an infant younger than six months, avoid traveling overseas and stay away from areas in which an outbreak is occurring.

Measles is incredibly contagious. About 9 out of 10 people who aren’t immune to measles will get infected if exposed to the virus.

The virus can easily be transmitted in public places without person-to-person contact. Additionally, because the measles virus can remain in the air for up to two hours, the disease can be spread long after the the person with the infection has left the area.

In some cases, measles — which causes fever, cough, runny nose, and rash — can be difficult to diagnose at first. Because symptoms typically appear 7 to 14 days after a person’s been infected, we often don’t know who’s been exposed to the virus.

“People are contagious for about four days prior to the rash showing up. Before that, it just looks like a bad cold. By the time we figure out someone has measles, they have had the chance to infect lots of people,” says Dr. Richard Rupp, a professor of pediatrics and director of the Sealy Institute for Vaccine Sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

To prevent measles from spreading, most of the population — 92 to 95 percent — must be immune.

Unfortunately, though, we’re continuing to see low vaccination rates in certain pockets of the United States. This vaccine hesitancy has caused the virus to spread like wildfire in these communities, health experts say.

U.S. health officials are actively investigating measles cases and contacts, says the CDC. By tracking measles activity, vaccinating and quarantining susceptible individuals, and issuing exposure warnings when necessary, health officials are working hard to get the outbreaks under control.

“I expect this infection to be contained by vaccinating the community and limiting exposure to the virus,” said Berman. “If Ebola can be contained in a developing country, then we can control measles with our resources and help from the community.”

If you don’t plan to get the MMR vaccine, it’s crucial to avoid public settings where there are susceptible people, the CDC advises. This includes schools, malls, childcare centers, and hospitals.

All in all, the key to containing the measles is to limit public exposure to the virus and encourage more people to get vaccinated.

The vaccine not only protects us from the virus, but protects others — especially infants and immunosuppressed people who cannot get the vaccine — as well.

The United States is currently experiencing one of the worst years for measles outbreaks in recent history.

Today the New York City Health Department announced they would mandate vaccinations in certain areas of the city.

There have been 555 reported U.S. cases this year, which surpasses the total count for all of 2018.

In order for the highly contagious virus to be contained, more people must get vaccinated and limit exposure to the disease.