measles vaccine
A young child receives a measles vaccine. CDC

Measles is on the rise in the United States. According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of measles cases in America tripled over the annual average in 2013, with 175 documented cases of the disease, when there are normally only 60.

The reason for the increase is largely blamed on the growing antivaccination movement in the United States. As the CDC notes, “measles is so contagious that the vast majority of a population must be vaccinated to prevent sustained outbreaks.” Unfortunately, in some circles across America, people are choosing not to vaccinate themselves or their families against this potentially deadly disease, leading to a huge rise in infection rates.

As Slate notes, a large number of the measles outbreaks in 2013 came from tight-knit communities that refused to vaccinate themselves for various diseases. Fifty-eight cases came from two of Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn – 30 in Williamsburg and 28 in Borough Park – that either by negligence or by choice did not vaccinate children or adults. Another 20 cases were traced to a Texas megachurch that promotes faith healing over vaccinations.

In almost all of the outbreaks, members of an unvaccinated community contracted the disease while abroad and spread it among other unvaccinated people in their social groups. CDC Director Tom Frieden warns that vaccinations against the disease are crucial to preventing future illnesses. He also worries that measles could only be the beginning.

“A measles outbreak anywhere is a risk everywhere,” Frieden said in a statement. “The steady arrival of measles in the United States is a constant reminder that deadly diseases are testing our health security every day. Someday, it won’t be only measles at the international arrival gate; so, detecting diseases before they arrive is a wise investment in U.S. health security.”

Currently, measles is no longer a widespread threat to public safety in America, but that wasn’t always the case. Before the United States began distributing Dr. Samuel L. Katz’s measles vaccine in 1963, the disease caused between 400 and 500 deaths every year. Just under 50,000 people were hospitalized for the disease annually and more 1,000 of them suffered permanent brain damage or deafness. Those numbers have plummeted in the past 50 years, all because of a widespread vaccination program.

Even today, one in every five children that contracts the disease is hospitalized, leading Frieden to warn that measles can still pose a danger to people in developed nations, especially if they are not vaccinated.

“There may be a misconception that infectious diseases are over in the industrialized world. But in fact, infectious diseases continue to be, and will always be, with us. Global health and protecting our country go hand in hand,” Frieden said.

If you are interested in receiving the measles vaccine, check with the CDC Vaccination Finder to locate a health center near you.