Ohio measles outbreak nearly triples, expected to last ‘several months’

Ohio measles outbreak nearly triples, expected to last ‘several months’

A false color image of the measles virus.

AND outbreak of measles in Columbus, Ohio, the area has nearly tripled in the past two weeks as officials say they struggle to determine the geographic spread of the outbreak and expect it to drag on for months.

The number of confirmed cases increased from 18 in mid-November according to the number of confirmed cases is 50, from Friday morning. Twenty cases required hospitalization. No deaths have been reported.

All affected children are completely unvaccinated. Nine cases are in babies under the age of 1, who are usually not yet suitable for vaccination. Twenty-six cases were in infants aged 1 to 2 years—eligible for the first dose. Ten of the cases are in young children between the ages of 3 and 5—some of whom would be eligible for their second dose—and there are five cases in children between the ages of 6 and 17.

At a news conference earlier this week, health officials said at least 25 percent of 2-year-olds in the area have not been vaccinated with safe and effective MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Based on census data from Franklin County, which includes Columbus, that means tens of thousands of children in the area are vulnerable to a highly contagious virus that can easily become serious and even life-threatening in young children.

Growth is expected

Measles is an airborne virus, transmitted by coughing, talking or even being in the same vicinity of an infected person. In closed spaces, the virus can remain in the air for up to two hours after an infected person has passed through them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 90 percent of unvaccinated people exposed to the virus will become infected.

“I expect our numbers to continue to grow,” said Mysheika Roberts, Columbus Public Health Commissioner. press conference this week. “In talking to the CDC and our colleagues around the country who have experienced measles outbreaks, this can take several months.”

Local health officials are now working closely with the CDC and Nationwide Children’s Hospital to address the cases and try to contain the outbreak. But Roberts admitted at the press conference that they are still having trouble understanding the extent of the outbreak.

For example, in some measles outbreak responses, health officials may decide to preemptively vaccinate infants aged 6 to 11 months if they are considered to be at high risk of infection – infants are usually eligible for the first dose of MMR at age 12 months, with the second dose given at the age of 4 to 6 years. But that early vaccination strategy is usually applied when epidemiologists can pinpoint communities at risk, which is not the case in Columbus.

“We’ve talked to the CDC about it,” Roberts said. “Communities that have done this in the past have been able to really define the geographic location of where the cases are. We’re not sure if we can really narrow down the geographic area. So we’re looking closely at that. We, working with our colleagues at the CDC [and] I’m really trying to determine where those cases are to see if there’s a segment of our community that we could offer that as an option to parents.”

Roberts noted that so far the outbreak has spread to three public health jurisdictions: Columbus Public Health, Franklin County Public Health and the Ross County Health District. Ross County is about 47 miles south of Franklin County, with another county, Pickaway, in between.

“Vaccinate them now”

Along with the three geographic areas, Roberts also noted three specific places where confirmed cases were known to be contagious, including a grocery store, a church and a mall. She listed the locations, dates and times of potential exposure down to hours, taking into account the possibility that the virus could linger for up to two hours.

We have no way to inform individuals in those areas without going to the media, said Robert.

The 50 cases so far have been counted since November 7 and are believed to be the result of the spread of the virus in the local community. There were four other travel-related cases in the area earlier in the year, between June and October. It is not clear how the current outbreak started, but officials suspect it is linked to one of the earlier travel-related cases.

Ohio’s current 2022 total of 54 measles cases makes up the largest share of the nation’s total. The CDC reported a total of 55 cases nationwide as of Nov. 24. But the number of cases is expected to rise in Ohio. And with anti-vaccine sentiment running rampant and missed vaccinations during the pandemic, health experts in the US and around the world are bracing for a fierce resurgence of the highly contagious virus.

Vaccination against measles is highly protective and is the best weapon against a potentially fatal infection. Roberts pleaded with local parents of unvaccinated children to vaccinate their children as soon as possible as the virus circulates in their community.

“I strongly encourage those parents to vaccinate those kids — now. Don’t wait. Don’t wait until after the holidays. Get them vaccinated now,” Roberts said.

She added that local health officials have opened vaccination clinics in recent weeks, but have not seen an increase in children receiving the MMR vaccine.

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