The Minnesota Department of Health reported 48 cases of measles in Hennepin, Crow Wing, and Ramsey counties, mainly present in the state’s Somali community.
Apparently, the outbreak has nothing to do with the patients being mainly children of Somali descent. On the other hand, the community has been explicitly targeted by vaccination skepticism groups.
Measles was eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, and yearly cases are limited to one or two per state.
Measles makes an unexpected comeback
This latest outbreak has been noted as the largest in almost 30 years. It started in Minnesota’s Somali-American community and spread rapidly in just a few months. Measles is a vastly infectious disease, the CDC warns.
The outbreak started in a Hennepin County day care, where the majority of patients are younger than 10. 41 of them are of Somali descent.
Kristen Ehresmann from Minnesota’s Department of Health claims that the outbreak is completely unnecessary, mainly because there is a measles vaccine readily available. The only reason why the disease was allowed to spread is that the community was made believe that vaccines cause autism.
The efforts from anti-vaccination groups have reduced the number of parents that vaccinate their children. This has been particularly true in Minnesota, where the state’s Somali community had one of the highest vaccination rates for toddlers between 2000 and 2008. Now recently, anti-vaccination groups have been known to hold meetings with the community and rates started dropping vastly in 2008.
The Somali community feared that their children were at a higher risk of suffering from autism. To refute this, the University of Minnesota investigated the matter and determined that children aged 7 to 9 years were equally likely to suffer from autism, whether they were of Somali descent, non-Somali descent, or Hispanic; but to no avail, the rate of measles vaccination in 2-year-olds dropped from over 90 percent in 2004 to just 42 percent in 2014.
Such belief is spread by conservative churches and politicians based on a research paper that was eventually deemed as fraudulent. It is the case of an investigation by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who analyzed the medical stories of only 12 patients in 1998 and wrongfully determined that vaccines caused autism.
Wakefield’s license was revoked, but it did little to curb the media wildfire, provoking government, researchers, and politicians to use the claim as a way to influence parents that have not yet decided whether to vaccinate their children.
“We shouldn’t be spending hundreds of thousands of public health dollars to battle an outbreak that doesn’t need to be. We collectively can prevent these things from happening by vaccinating,” stated Ehresman.
An unnecessary outbreak
Measles is immensely infectious. The CDC estimates that if someone has measles, it will infect 9 out of 10 unprotected subjects that come in contact with the patient. Children are vaccinated against measles when they are 1 year old and a second time when they are between 4 and 6 years old. Vaccinating against measles is a standard practice, as it is a highly infectious disease that can turn out to be fatal in some cases.
Symptoms start appearing two weeks after the patient has been exposed to the virus. They include fever, sore throat, conjunctivitis, white spots inside the mouth, and skin rash. Children are especially vulnerable to the disease, as it is transmitted by getting in contact with infected fluids.
If the child has been playing with someone infected and then puts its hands to its eyes or mouth, then the infection is sure to spread. Furthermore, when an infected person coughs, talks, or sneezes there is a risk of infection as the smallest of droplets can spread the disease to someone else. Epidemiologists assure that measles is so infectious, that even tiny saliva droplets can remain in the air for two hours, still being able to spread the disease.
The risk factors include traveling abroad and having a lack of vitamin A, although the highest contributor to measles infection is not being vaccinated promptly.
Health officials add that it is way easier and cost effective to vaccinate everyone rather than searching those that carry the disease.
So far, nine other states have reported measles cases in 2017 but none as significant as the outbreak seen in Minnesota.
“Measles is a serious disease. You can have pneumonia and dehydration and people do die from measles, so we take it very seriously. Our goal for measles control is to protect all the individuals in the state, but for some people, they can’t be vaccinated because of health conditions,” stated Ehresmann.
Ehresmann also referred to the inefficiency in wasting thousands of dollars on battling a disease that already has an effective vaccine.
Source: Minnesota Department of Health