The number of measles cases confirmed in the United States in 2019 has reached 1,001, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said this week.
As of last week, the total for 2019 had already reached the highest point in any year since 1992, when there were 2,237 cases of the infectious disease reported.
"The Department of Health and Human Services has been deeply engaged in promoting the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, amid concerning signs that there are pockets of undervaccination around the country," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement Thursday.
Azar reinforced the importance of vaccines in combating the outbreak.
"We cannot say this enough: Vaccines are a safe and highly effective public health tool that can prevent this disease and end the current outbreak. I encourage all Americans to talk to your doctor about what vaccines are recommended to protect you, your family, and your community from measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases," he said.
Measles is highly contagious. The disease is usually spread through sneezing and coughing. It can linger in the air for up to two hours.
Cases have been reported in more than half of U.S. states. New York has had the highest total, with nearly 700 cases reported this year.
Most of those cases have been in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Queens, where there are low vaccination rates. The New York City Department of Health said that as of Monday, 566 cases had been confirmed in those areas since September.
Clark County in Washington state had the second-largest outbreak in the U.S. this year with more than 70 cases reported.
According to the CDC, the outbreaks in New York City and Rockland County, N.Y., threaten to nullify the nation's status of having officially eliminated measles.
"That loss would be a huge blow for the nation and erase the hard work done by all levels of public health. The measles elimination goal, first announced in 1966 and accomplished in 2000, was a monumental task," the CDC said in a May press release.
"Before widespread use of the measles vaccine, an estimated 3 [million] to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States, along with an estimated 400 to 500 deaths and 48,000 hospitalizations," the release said.