Add Utah to the growing list of states contributing to America’s ongoing measles outbreak.
An adult from southeastern Utah tested positive for the potentially deadly respiratory disease last month, state health officials confirmed on Tuesday. No public announcement was made; the case was reported in a surveillance update by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Measles is highly contagious and one case is, by federal definition, an outbreak, said state epidemiologist Melissa Goebel. But in this instance, the virus didn’t spread to the individual’s relatives or close contacts.
As is common, however, the individual was not fully immunized and became infected while traveling in Europe — a risk that grows in the peak vacation months of summer, said Rebecca Ward, a health educator with the Utah Department of Health.
Utah requires that all children receive two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine before entering school.
It’s also recommended that adults check to see if they’re up to date on their shots and have received two doses, especially prior to travel, Ward said.
“The old mind-set was that if you were born prior to 1957, you were considered immune because there was so much measles circulating back then,” she said. “But that mind-set is changing.”
Since January, 397 measles cases have been reported in 20 states, more than any full year since the disease was eliminated from the United States 14 years ago.
The biggest measles clusters have been in Ohio, California and New York, and nearly all (97 percent) of the cases were imported by travelers abroad, according to the CDC. Most U.S. cases this year were picked up in the Philippines, the agency says.
Utah’s lone case is not an anomaly. There were zero cases in 2013, but one case in 2012. The state was measles-free from 2005 to 2010.
Measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000. But it’s still common in parts of Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa — and it remains a leading cause of death among young children worldwide — posing a risk to travelers who aren’t inoculated.
And when those travelers return home, the virus easily spreads to other unprotected victims, as illustrated by an outbreak in Utah in 2011.
The outbreak, the state’s biggest in more than a decade, originated with a family in the affluent Salt Lake County suburb of Holladay. The family’s unimmunized children imported the virus from Poland after traveling there to retrieve a Mormon missionary.
Fifteen individuals were infected, 12,000 were exposed and four public schools were placed on quarantine. Costs to monitor and contain the disease exceeded $130,000.
Public health officials blame the resurgence of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases, such as whooping cough, on an anti-vaccine movement.
The number of Utah parents seeking to exempt their children from school-entry immunization requirements is growing. But at nearly 4 percent, it’s still above the safety threshold set by the CDC for preventing the spread of most diseases.
There are pockets of the state, however, with higher exemption rates — mostly highly educated neighborhoods in Salt Lake and Summit counties.