(CNN) — In the year 2000, measles was eradicated in the United States.
Today, measles is back, and in a big way.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that 2018 was the second worst for measles outbreaks in the United States in two decades, with 349 cases reported last year. It’s surpassed in the last 20 years only by 2014, which saw 667 cases. It’s the third worst year since the mid-1990s, when 508 cases were reported in 1996.
“The fact that we have had so many cases in 2018 is really quite discouraging,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci with the National Institutes of Health. “This is a completely avoidable situation.”
Fauci blames the anti-vaxxers, those who refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated.
“It’s really, quite frankly, a tragedy people are not vaccinating their children,” he said.
Measles is a contagious virus that spreads through the air through coughing and sneezing. Symptoms such as high fever, rash all over the body, stuffy nose and red eyes typically disappear without treatment within two or three weeks. One or two of every 1,000 children who get measles will die from complications, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 1978, the CDC set a goal to eliminate measles from the United States by 1982. Measles was declared eliminated — defined by absence of continuous disease transmission for greater than 12 months — from the United States in 2000.
But there has been a recent rise in unvaccinated children. The proportion of children receiving no vaccine doses by 2 years old rose from 0.9% among those born in 2011 to 1.3% among those born in 2015, the CDC reported in October.
There were outbreaks in 26 states last year, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee, among other communities that shun vaccines.
Opposition to the vaccines has been growing, fueled by misinformation on the Internet and social media.
as opposed to protecting their children,” Fauci said.
“Parents can actually be misled into thinking that the vaccines are going to be causing harm to their children,
Measles hotspots have been identified as places where infections could grow rapidly based on the number of kindergarteners who had not been vaccinated. Those hotspots include places such as Kansas City, Mo.; and Plano, Fort Worth, Austin and Houston in Texas.
Eighteen states — including Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri — allow parents to opt their children out of vaccinations based on religious or philosophical reasons. In 12 of the states, including Arkansas and Oklahoma, those numbers have risen since 2009.
The practice leaves infants vulnerable, since they can’t get vaccinated until they are one year old.
The World Health Organization calls the lack of vaccinations an international concern.
“Vaccine hesitancy — the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines — threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases,” the World Health Organization said.
“Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease — it currently prevents 2-3 million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved.”
The health agency cited the recent 30% global increase in cases of measles.
“The reasons for this rise are complex, and not all of these cases are due to vaccine hesitancy,” WHO said. “However, some countries that were close to eliminating the disease have seen a resurgence.”
The CDC recommends people get the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to protect against those viruses. The typical recommendations are that children should get two doses of MMR vaccine, the first between 12 to 15 months of age and the second at 4 through 6 years old.