A measles outbreak in Ohio hospitalized more than 32 children

A measles outbreak in Ohio hospitalized more than 32 children

Child with measles rash.

Child with measles rash.
Photography: Shutterstock (Shutterstock)

A measles outbreak in Columbus, Ohio has sickened more than 80 children and hospitalized dozens. Most of these cases related to unvaccinated children who nevertheless met the requirements for vaccination. It is not yet clear how long the outbreak will last, and the latest case was discovered last week.

First, Columbus Public Health officials reported outbreak in early November, although the first known cases are now believed to have started in mid-October. According to CPH publicly available data, updated Tuesday morning, there are now 82 confirmed cases of measles in the area, while 32 children have been hospitalized. Nobody died.

Measles is an incredibly contagious viral disease that usually causes a flu-like illness and a characteristic rash. Although most cases are mild, the risk of severe, life-threatening complications is higher in very young children. Even a typical case can have far-reaching effects, since the measles virus can restore a person’s immunity to other infections. Fortunately, there is a safe and highly effective two-dose vaccine—measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) combination vaccine—that has helped eliminate measles from local circulation in many countries, including the United States.

Unfortunately, many areas of the world are still poorly vaccinated against measles, and the virus continues kill more than 100,000 people a year, mostly children under the age of five. Occasionally, cases imported from other countries can cause outbreaks in the US that spread mostly among unvaccinated individuals and communities – and that seems to have happened here.

Of the 82 cases documented so far, at least 74 were in unvaccinated children. Four more cases were recorded in partially vaccinated children and four in children whose vaccination status was unknown. Some cases involved children too young to receive vaccines, but 66% of cases involved children between the ages of one and five, meaning they were eligible for vaccination. It is therefore likely that many or most of these children have parents who refused to vaccinate them.

The first few years of the pandemic saw a decline in reported measles cases, both in the US and around the world. But the virus has likely made a fierce comeback this year, thanks in large part to disrupted childhood vaccination programs and growing anti-vaccination sentiment around the world. According to the World Health Organization, measles should be considered immediate threat to public health to every region of the world.

Measles continues to be locally eliminated in the US, but there are troubling trends here as well. For example, a recent research The Kaiser Foundation found an increase in adults who disagree with mandatory childhood vaccinations for public school entry, which includes the MMR vaccine and many others. However, this increase appears to be mostly concentrated among Republican-leaning adults. Overall, 28% of people now say parents should decide whether children get these routine vaccines, even at the cost of putting others at risk, up from 16% who said the same in 2019. Public support for children specifically needing the MMR vaccine fell from 82% to 71% during this time as well.

Although new reported cases in Ohio have decreased in recent weeks, the outbreak may not be over yet. The most recent case, defined as the appearance of a telltale rash, occurred on December 19, according to CPH data. It’s measles typically the most contagious four days before and four days after the appearance of the rash, and it can take up to two weeks until the symptoms of a new case appear.

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