History of Measles
A dramatic increase in measles cases occurred between 1989 and 1991. During those three years, 55,622 cases were reported. Most of the cases occurred in children under five years of age, with the number of cases among unvaccinated Hispanic and African American populations being four to seven times higher than among non-Hispanic whites. This also marked the first time that the number of measles cases for children under five years of age exceeded that of the group from 5 to 19 years old.
During this period, 123 people died from measles-related illnesses, and almost half were under five years old. Ninety percent of those who lost their lives had not been vaccinated. There were 64 deaths reported in 1990; this was the largest number that had been seen in almost 20 years.
Since 1993, the largest outbreaks of measles have occurred in populations that refuse vaccination, including communities in Utah and Nevada, and in Christian Scientist schools in Missouri and Illinois. Smaller outbreaks were reported in unvaccinated preschool populations, vaccinated school populations, among college students, and in adult communities, but these outbreaks were much smaller than those reported between 1989 and 1991. In recent years, outbreaks of measles have been small (fewer than 50 cases), and have chiefly involved high school and college students who are unvaccinated, or have received only one dose of measles vaccination. No large preschool-type outbreak has been reported since 1992.
In March of 2000, a group of expert consultants gathered by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that measles is no longer endemic in the United States. Rather, all cases in the United States appear to be the result of importations, with limited domestic spread. This means that the only measles cases we see in the United States today have been brought in from other countries, usually Europe and Asia. Due to an aggressive measles vaccination program by the Pan American Health Organization, measles incidence is now very low in Latin America and the Caribbean. Eliminating measles from the Americas appears to be an achievable goal.