A nurse holds up a one dose bottle and a prepared syringe of measles, mumps and rubella virus vaccine made by Merck at the Utah County Health Department on April 29, 2019 in Provo, Utah.
George Frey—Getty Images
By Tara Law
May 30, 2019

More people in the U.S. have been infected with measles during the first five months of 2019 than the total for any year since 1994, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Thursday.

A total of 971 cases of measles have been reported in the U.S. since the beginning of 2019, compared to 963 cases during the entirety of 1994, according to the agency. The uptick threatens the nation’s measles elimination status, which was attained in 2000.

Prior to that status, as many as 3 to 4 million people became infected with measles annually in the United States, the CDC said. About 400 to 500 people died from the disease annually, and about 48,000 people were hospitalized.

The recent spread of measles has been driven by “pockets” of unvaccinated people — primarily in communities where a significant number of people are unvaccinated. Measles is still common in other parts of the world, and travelers sometimes bring measles back to the U.S.

The U.S. is currently facing outbreaks in New York City and Rockland County, New York, which have been battling measles cases for almost 7 months. Many of the measles cases involves communities of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield urged anyone who is unvaccinated but eligible for the vaccine to get vaccinated to help end the outbreak.

He also addressed concerns that vaccines are dangerous, or can cause autism. In 1998, a fraudulent study published by discredited British doctor Andrew Wakefield suggested that the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is linked to autism. The study was later retracted by the former doctor’s co-authors and the journal.

“The greater danger is the disease that vaccination prevents,” said Redfield. “Your decision to vaccinate will protect your family’s health and your community’s well-being.”

Write to Tara Law at tara.law@time.com.

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