A measles outbreak that began when a single individual arrived from Israel over Sukkos has now expanded to two counties, with health officials in Monsey and Williamsburg going into emergency mode.
The health departments in New York City and Rockland County issued warnings on Wednesday of about a dozen and a half confirmed cases “in the Orthodox Jewish community” — six young children in Williamsburg and 11 adults and children in Monsey.
“The initial case of measles was acquired by a child on a visit to Israel, where a large outbreak of the disease is occurring,” the New York City warning stated. “… To increase awareness about measles, the Health Department will hold a meeting in Williamsburg with rabbis and elected officials tomorrow, place ads in local newspapers and distribute posters to health care providers.”
The measles cases in Williamsburg ranged in age from 11 months to four years. Five of these children were unvaccinated prior to exposure, four whose vaccination was delayed and one who was too young to have received the immunization. The sixth child had received one dose of the vaccine prior to exposure but was not yet immune.
Two of the children experienced further complications, with one requiring hospitalization after coming down with pneumonia and another with an ear infection.
The children would have been safe in what health experts refer to as a “herd immunity.” This means that if everyone is vaccinated there is that much less of a chance of the illness infecting the toddlers, who are too young to be immunized. But when some families do not vaccinate, this leads to a greater danger to young children.
In Monsey, the eleven confirmed cases include five who acquired measles during travel to Israel and six more who became infected by the travelers. In addition, there are four more suspected cases in Monsey and New Square.
Measles has largely been eradicated from much of the United States in recent decades. However, it has making a return every two or three years, and health departments have blamed it on a small percentage of parents who, citing a discredited study, refuse to vaccinate.
“Although measles is preventable,” said New York City’s acting health commissioner, Oxiris Barbot, “too many families are choosing to not vaccinate or delay vaccination, putting their children and other children at risk. It is also important to make sure the entire family is protected before traveling internationally, because outbreaks of measles are occurring in Israel and throughout Europe.”
The health department recommends the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine for children at age 12 months, with a second dose at four to six years old. Two doses of MMR are required to attend kindergarten through grade 12, although an exemption exists for religious beliefs.
The city agency is urging parents to keep children with symptoms of the measles at home and not send them to daycare or school. They are also taking the rare step of barring all unvaccinated children — including those with a medical or religious exemption — from attending daycare or school for 21 days after their last exposure to someone with symptoms.
Measles is a highly contagious disease. Thse at highest risk are young children and expectant women. The disease is transmitted by airborne particles, droplets and direct contact with the respiratory secretions of an infected person.
Measles typically begins with a fever and generalized rash lasting several days. The rash usually starts on the face, proceeds down the body, and may include the palms and soles. Infected individuals are contagious from four days before the rash through the fourth day after it appears.