After Two Quiet Years, Measles Returning To Boro Park


The same unvaccinated British family whose travel to Boro Park two years ago caused a rare mumps outbreak has now brought measles to Boro Park and Williamsburg, a community pediatrician said.

Dr. Robert Adler, whose clientele includes many Orthodox families in the two Jewish neighborhoods, told Hamodia that after two years, measles cases are making a comeback among his patients.

“We saw nothing in the past two years but two in the past couple of weeks,” Dr. Adler said. He said that he was hesitant to call it an epidemic yet, but it was the “beginning of an epidemic.”

Dr. Susan Schulman, a Boro Park pediatrician and author of Understanding Your Child’s Health, credited the lack of cases in her practice to a high immunization rate among her patients.

“I haven’t seen any cases, but the hospitals have reported,” she said.

City health officials have reported 30 measles cases over the past month — 26 in Boro Park and another four in Williamsburg. All those who were infected have either refused to vaccinate or are under the age of one, the minimum age of immunization.

Everyone has recovered without requiring hospitalization, the Health Department said, but there have been severe repercussions nonetheless.

“There have been two hospitalizations, a miscarriage and a case of pneumonia as a result of this outbreak,” a Health Department spokeswoman said. “All cases involved adults or children who were not vaccinated due to refusal or delays in vaccination.”

According to the Daily News, this is the fourth time the airborne virus, which causes red splotches, fever and aches, has broken out in Boro Park since 2008. But health officials say that the overall immunization rate among Orthodox Jews in New York City is similar to that of other communities.

“Measles is a very preventable disease,” Dr. Jonathan Jacobs, professor of clinical medicine and an infectious disease specialist at Weill Cornell Medical College, told the News. “Some people don’t get vaccinated, which is quite dangerous. It is a very infectious disease. You can get it by being in the same air space as someone. But unless everyone is vaccinated, it means we’ll always have some measles that will be transmitted.”

“The United Kingdom is currently battling a widespread measles epidemic,” said Dr. Adler. Out of 38,000 people in Wales who are not immunized, he said, 1,200 have contracted the measles — the highest figure in 20 years.

An Orthodox family from London that does not immunize their children for ideological reasons traveled to New York two years ago, and one of the children who had the mumps spread it to people at a chasunah. Dozens of people in Boro Park and Williamsburg were sickened. The epidemic took two months to subside.

That same family was just in Brooklyn for Pesach, this time with a child who had the measles.
Although they have since returned to Britain, they left behind a mushrooming disease at a time when Orthodox families are preparing to leave to the Catskills or summer camps.

The reason Britain has elevated disease levels is murky.

Dr. Schulman blamed it on the now-discredited report of Andrew Wakefield, a former doctor who was disbarred after his fraudulent 1998 research paper in The Lancet claiming a link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.

Although he has since been banned from practicing medicine in Britain, Wakefield has a devoted following spinning conspiracy theories on the web.

“It’s easy to scare people,” Dr. Schulman said. “It’s not so easy to unscare them.”

Dr. Adler said that it could take “a couple of months to play itself out.” He advises people to make sure that camps or bungalow colonies where they plan to go do not have anyone unvaccinated.

He is also adamant that every one-year-old receive the shot, with a booster three years later. If someone has been exposed to a patient with measles, he or she can be vaccinated within 72 hours.

The chance of getting the measles is about one in 1,000; the number plummets to one in a million after the shot, Dr. Adler said.

“Both from a medical point of view and a halachic point of view, there is a consensus now to immunize,” he said.

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