Measles cases continue to rise, near record

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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A disease once eliminated is coming back with a vengeance.

The number of cases of measles this year in the United States is up to 555, including at least one in Kentucky. That’s more than five a day on average.

We're on pace to pass the 20-year record next month.

Disease experts like Dr. Thomas Rushton, infectious disease specialist at St. Mary’s Medical Center, worry this is not a blip but the start of a trend.

"We have a perfect storm," Rushton said.

That's not what you want to hear when it comes to measles. It’s a disease that can lead to pneumonia, brain swelling or death.

It was considered eliminated in 2000. As of Thursday, though, 555 cases had been confirmed, with more than eight months of the year to go.

"Measles is incredibly contagious, so there won't be any easy fix here," Rushton said.

Rushton adds with ongoing epidemics in several countries around the world, religious holy days, as well as the summer travel season ahead, the number is only going to grow.

He said the best way to protect yourself is through the MMR vaccine. He explained that any study which shows otherwise was not well done or was biased.

He said the vaccine is safe.

"Absolutely. No doubt."

Though because it's a live vaccine, some people with compromised immune systems cannot get the shot, which is why it's important for everyone else to get it.

The previous record number of cases since the disease was eliminated was in 2014 with 667. More than half came in the Amish community in Ohio.

Rushton believes because of distrust in government and science, as well as a polarized political environment, this could be the new normal and the start of a trend.

"I think we're going to see more and more of it," he said.

It’s frustrating for him that a disease once gone for good is coming back.

But the saddest part is for those that will deal with the disease and its complications for the rest of their lives.

"I think about the children,” said Dr. Rushton. “Most will recover. Some will have long-term effects. Some will have effects that won't be seen for 12-15 years. Those are the tragedies. No question."

He said a measles outbreak poses a threat to hospitals, but they are ready to deal with it. However, it’s a threat which comes at a time of other threats like from hepatitis A and the opioid epidemic.

"It continues to tax the health care system which is already overtaxed," Rushton said. "Given the fact that this is entirely preventable, I think this is a very unfortunate situation. We're spending millions which could have been spent somewhere else."

Other countries dealing with measles epidemics include the Philippines, Ukraine and Israel. Inside the United States, outbreaks this year have been in Washington state, California, Michigan and around the greater New York City area.

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