MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) confirmed an outbreak of measles in Hennepin County involves unvaccinated children between the ages of one and five. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports two more cases were confirmed on Wednesday by Minnesota health officials bringing the total number of measles infections to 11.
Kris Ehresmann, the MDH Infectious Disease Division Director said, “Right now, all the cases that we’re seeing have come from a single exposure that we’re aware of. These individuals have also exposed others and we have yet to see the effects of those exposures.”
Six of the affected children were hospitalized.
“Measles can spread easily among unvaccinated people and we’re working with the Somali community in the Twin Cities to alert people to the outbreak,” Ehresmann said in a statement. “The best way to protect yourself and your community is to make sure everyone has been vaccinated.”
A statement from the Minnesota Department of Health said, “Health officials are investigating how the children became infected and are working with people known to be exposed to inform them of recommended protective actions. Health officials will also monitor for additional cases over the next few weeks.”
Measles symptoms include a high fever, runny nose, cough, and watery eyes, followed by a rash that starts from the head and spreads to the rest of the body. Serious cases can lead to hospitalization or even death. Measles is highly contagious and can be spread by coughing, sneezing, or being in the same place with someone who has the disease.
In the general population, the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccination rate is around 90 percent for persons aged 2+, but in the Somali community, vaccination rates are as low as 41 percent, according to Ehresmann.
Many Minnesotans are immune to measles either from being vaccinated or once having had the disease. Measles was declared officially eradicated in the United States in 2000 according to the MDH, but is prevalent in other parts of the world. Europe is currently seeing an increase in measles cases. The United States sees occasional cases, which are most often related to international travel. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports in 2011, a small outbreak of measles resulted in 26 cases and all those cases were either imported or linked to foreign travel.
“This outbreak is about unvaccinated children, not specific communities,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger in the MDH press release. “Unfortunately, the Minnesota Somali community has been targeted with misinformation about vaccine risks. We’re partnering with Somali community leaders and health care providers to counteract that misinformation. We want as many Minnesotans as possible to protect themselves and their families by getting vaccinated.”
Alpha News reported earlier this year St. Louis Park High School and Eden Prairie’s Central Middle School both have had cases of active tuberculosis (TB), another disease that is highly contagious and extremely rare in the United States. Although neither school district confirmed if the infected persons were teachers or students, in October 2016, Alpha News reported that the number of active TB infections in refugees living in Minnesota between 2010 and 2014 is ten times higher than any other state.