Health officials in Illinois are trying to find the source of a measles infection, after five babies were diagnosed with the contagious respiratory disease in a Chicago suburb. Saying that more cases are likely, a health official warns, “The cat is out of the bag.”
Because the Chicago patients are all under a year old, they can’t yet be vaccinated. The new cluster of cases joins more than 100 other confirmed measles cases in 14 states this year, most of which have been traced to a December outbreak at Disneyland in California.
The infants all attend KinderCare Learning Center in Palatine, Ill, according to the Chicago Sun Times. So far, two have tested positive for the disease and another three have been diagnosed based on their symptoms.
Dr. Terry Mason, the CEO of the Cook County Department of Public Health, says more infants were exposed, all of whom were too young to have received the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, and additional cases are expected in the coming days. He says public health nurses are reaching out to about 10 families to provide guidance. Unimmunized children won’t be allowed in the day care center for the next few weeks.
“There will be more cases. . . . We shouldn’t be surprised about that,” said Dr. Mason. “The cat is out of the bag.”
The new cases come a week after the Chicago area’s first measles diagnosis; local news station ABC 7 says officials don’t think the cases are related. According to Dr. Rachel Rubin, a senior public health medical officer with the county health department, Illinois has only recorded about 10 cases of measles in the past five years. “We haven’t seen anything like this in many years, where there’s a cluster of multiple cases,” she told the Chicago Sun Times.
Measles is a highly infectious respiratory disease that can cause severe health complications, including pneumonia, and in rare cases, death. It starts with a rash, and is transmitted through coughing or sneezing. It can remain alive in the air and on surfaces for up to two hours.
The recent outbreak of measles cases has put new focus on vaccination laws like that of California, one of 19 states where parents don’t have to vaccinate their children before enrolling them in school. On Sunday, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said health officials are “very concerned” that low vaccination rates in some areas of the country could lead to a much larger outbreak.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a statement urging parents, schools and communities to vaccinate children against measles. The group said all children should get the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) between 12 and 15 months of age and again between 4 and 6 years old. According to the CDC, two doses of the MMR vaccine are about 97 percent effective at preventing measles.