A growing measles outbreak in Columbus, Ohio has sickened more than a dozen unvaccinated children and hospitalized nine of them, and local public health officials are asking the Centers for Disease for help. United States Control and Prevention.
“We have requested assistance from the CDC and they will send two epidemiologists at the end of the month to help with our local investigation,” Columbus Public Health spokesperson Kelli Newman told CNN Thursday.
The CDC confirmed Thursday that it is aware of the cases and is “deploying a small team to Ohio to assist on the ground with the investigation.”
“State and local health authorities are in the process of notifying potentially exposed residents, ensuring they are vaccinated, and helping any members of the community who may have been exposed to understand the signs and symptoms of measles infection,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said in an email. at CNN. “Anyone who may have been exposed should follow up with their healthcare provider.”
When the measles outbreak was first reported last week, only four confirmed cases had been identified at one day care centre, which temporarily closed – but the number of cases and facilities involved has increased.
On Friday morning, Columbus public health officials updated their investigation to include 19 confirmed, and more suspected, cases at 10 daycare centers and two schools.
“All the cases are in unvaccinated children, and all but one are under 4 years old. A child is 6 years old,” Newman said.
Health officials from Columbus Public Health and Franklin County Public Health investigated these cases and traced all contacts who may have been exposed to the measles virus.
Columbus Public Health officials encourage parents to make sure their children are up to date on their vaccinations, including the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, known as the MMR vaccine.
Experts recommend that children receive the vaccine in two doses: a first between 12 months and 15 months and a second between 4 and 6 years. One dose is about 93% effective in preventing measles if you come into contact with the virus. Two doses are approximately 97% effective.
“We are working diligently on cases to identify any potential exposures and notify those who have been exposed,” Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts said in a news release last week. “The most important thing you can do to protect yourself against measles is to get vaccinated with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, which is safe and very effective.”
About 90% of unvaccinated people who are exposed to measles will become infected, according to Columbus Public Health, and about 1 in 5 people in the United States who get measles will be hospitalized.
However, the CDC reports that more than 90% of children in the United States have been vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella by age 2.
Measles is a highly contagious disease that can spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes or if someone comes into direct contact with or shares germs by touching the same objects or surfaces. Measles symptoms can include fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes, and a rash of red spots. In rare cases, this can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis or death.
The measles outbreak in Columbus is a “pretty typical scenario” of an infectious virus making its way through an environment and spreading among unvaccinated people, said Dr. David Freedman, professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and founding director of the Clinique Santé du Voyageur.
Freedman said that at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when many people stayed home and some health facilities were closed, many children missed their routine vaccinations – and they may not have still not received their MMR vaccines.
“There are a lot of children across the country who are behind on their routine vaccinations, so I think the message is always: if your child is 1 year old or older, they should be vaccinated,” said Freedman, spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
“Measles is not particularly a winter illness. It is less likely to be affected by travel as they are usually young, non-immune children. Most adults are vaccinated,” he said. However, he added, “Measles is highly contagious. Measles is probably the most contagious disease we know. It’s probably 10 times more contagious than Covid.”
In 1912, measles became a reportable disease in the United States, which meant that health care providers and laboratories were required to report diagnosed cases. In the decade that followed, an average of about 6,000 measles-related deaths were reported each year.
In the 1950s, researchers isolated the measles virus from a patient’s blood, and in the 1960s, they succeeded in transforming this virus into a vaccine. The vaccine was licensed and then used in a vaccination program.
Before the introduction of the measles vaccination program in the United States in 1963, about 3 to 4 million people contracted the disease each year nationwide, according to the CDC. Subsequently, measles cases and deaths in the United States and other developed countries plummeted. There were 963 cases reported in the United States in 1994 and 508 in 1996.
The last major measles outbreak reported in the United States was in 2019. It was the largest since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000 and involved more than a thousand confirmed cases in 31 states – the largest number of cases reported in the United States since 1992.
Overall, the number of measles infections reported in the United States each year remains low due to the widespread use of vaccines, said Dr. Martin Hirsch, a professor of medicine at Harvard University and the Massachusetts General Hospital, who is also editor of the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
As of Oct. 28, a total of 33 measles cases have been reported this year in five jurisdictions across the United States, according to the CDC.
“Over 90% of people in the United States have been vaccinated against measles, and even though it’s a highly transmissible virus, I wouldn’t expect to see the rates, for example, that we’re seeing with RSV now because we don’t. I don’t have an RSV vaccine,” Hirsch said, referring to an increase in respiratory syncytial virus infections across the country, mostly in children.
“Most of the measles cases we see in the United States result from people arriving in this country from other countries with much lower vaccination rates, followed by transmission to US residents who are unvaccinated” , said Hirsch, spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “So the possibility that a person carrying the measles virus entering the country could spread to an unvaccinated population is still there.”