A measles outbreak has been confirmed in two of the five boroughs within the New York City (NYC) area. The NYC Health Department made an announcement on Friday that at least 16 known cases of the virus have been confirmed in Manhattan and the Bronx. There have been four cases hospitalized to date. Officials have stated they are taking measures to prevent the outbreak from spreading through emergency room facilities.
At this time, officials have not located the source or reason for the measles outbreak. However, they are urging everyone in the metropolitan area to check their vaccination records and ensure they receive the vaccination as soon as possible if they have not been immunized for it. Approximately 90 percent of those individuals exposed to the virus will become infected if not vaccinated. There is also a blood test available to check immunity levels to determine if individuals might need to be re-vaccinated.
Of the 16 confirmed cases that have tested positive for measles in the NYC area, those affected by the outbreak include seven adults between the ages of 22 and 63, two unimmunized children, three vaccinated children in the one-year-old range, and four children below the vaccination age. The first vaccine to combat the virus was developed in 1963 and later incorporated into the MMR vaccine in 1971. The MMR immunization includes protection against measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles), and the newest incarnation of the vaccine, MMRV, also includes protection against varicella (chickenpox) infection. It is considered 95 percent effective, safe, and usually involves few side effects.
Measles or rubeola (red measles) is a highly contagious virus that causes a rash to cover the body. It usually presents with symptoms such as body rash, fever, hacking cough, congestion, runny nose, and even ear infections or pneumonia. It has also been linked to seizures and meningitis in rare, severe cases. The virus is airborne and can spread easily by means of direct person-to-person contact, sneezing, coughing, and sharing food or drink with infected individuals. It usually has a lengthy incubation period during which time the virus can be spread to others four days before the body rash appears up until four days following the appearance of the rash. It is during this incubation period that the virus is most commonly spread because people are unaware they are infected. Once an individual has measles, it is extremely uncommon to become infected again because the body develops blood antibodies to it.
Measles outbreaks similar to what has been confirmed in the New York City area is uncommon in the U.S. and Canada. This is because children in these regions receive MMR or MMRV vaccinations as part of their routine immunizations. Measles has been a rarity in the United States since 2000, but the virus remains active in other parts of the world and does make its way back to the U.S. in pockets of infection. These cases are usually linked to travel aboard. For instance, there were 175 reported measles cases in the U.S. in 2013 that were determined to be linked to travel overseas. Additionally, there has been evidence to suggest a link between the anti-vaccination movement and the re-emergence of diseases such as measles and polio in areas where it was previously eradicated.
As previously stated, six of the 16 confirmed measles outbreak cases in the NYC area are linked to unvaccinated children and children too young for the immunization. Most anti-vaccine proponents contend there is a link between immunizations and other health issues such autism and asthma, so many choose to expose themselves or their children to these diseases naturally and allow the body to build up it own immunity. However, these practices are strongly discouraged by doctors and health officials due to the public safety risks and risks to the individuals involved.
By Leigh Haugh