At least 63 children are sick with measles in Ohio

At least 63 children are sick with measles in Ohio

An constant epidemic of measles in central Ohio, it rose to 63 cases as of Thursday. Twenty-five children were hospitalized.

The state’s health care system is also battling an increase in respiratory illnesses — flu, RSV and COVID-19. The high rates of those diseases make it difficult for doctors to label measles cases, Mysheika Roberts, health commissioner in Columbus, Ohio, told ABC News.

“Measles can be a problem like a cold, like a mild RSV or a mild flu. And it’s only when the rash appears that most providers and parents say, oh, this is different,” she said. “By that point, the case had already exposed other individuals, whether it was at daycare, at home, at church.”

Three of the 63 children received one dose of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, a highly effective vaccine that protects against those three diseases. The remaining 60 children are unvaccinated. Most of the children are under 5 years old.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children receive two doses of the MMR vaccine — the first when they are 12 to 15 months old, and the second when they are 4 to 6 years old. One dose is 93% effective against measles, and two doses are 97% effective.

The vaccine’s effectiveness helped the United States officially eliminate measles in 2020, a designation that means the virus is no longer continuously circulating in the country. However, occasional outbreaks can still occur if the virus is introduced into a community where many people are unvaccinated. An increase in vaccine hesitancy over the past decade has reduced MMR vaccination rates in some areas, creating pockets of the US particularly vulnerable to the spread of measles.

For example, research has shown that low vaccination rates were responsible for an outbreak at Disneyland in 2015, which spread to more than 125 people.

Roberts said it appears that children affected by the outbreak in Ohio were not vaccinated because their families refused the vaccine, not because they experienced delays in getting vaccinated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Columbus Health Department is offering the vaccine at its clinic, but the department has not seen any increase in the number of people seeking the MMR vaccine in response to the outbreak, officials said.

It is still unclear how large this outbreak could become. The health department doesn’t have a good sense of the percentage of people who are vaccinated against measles in the state of Ohio, Roberts said. Her team is working with the CDC, insurance providers and health care providers to get a better estimate of that number.

“Once we get that population information here in central Ohio, the CDC is optimistic that they will be able to give us an estimate of how large this outbreak could be,” she noted. “But at this point, just looking at past outbreaks in other communities, we’re just hoping it’s not as big as some of them.”

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