A measles outbreak in Ohio has quickly expanded and spread to seven daycare facilities and one school, all with unvaccinated children, according to local health officials. The outbreak highlights the risk of the highly contagious but vaccine-preventable disease mushrooming amid declining vaccination rates.
On Nov. 9, the health departments of the City of Columbus and Franklin County, which includes Columbus, announced an outbreak at a daycare center that had sickened four unvaccinated children. Officials reportedly expected more cases to follow.
As of Wednesday morning, there have been 18 confirmed cases from seven childcare facilities and one school. All cases are in unvaccinated children and at least 15 cases are in children under 4 years of age. At least six have required hospitalization, Columbus Public Health spokesman Kelli Newman told Ars.
Health officials are now working to contain the outbreak, including by conducting contact tracing in affected facilities, working with local health care providers on measles awareness efforts, and reaching out to families to educate them about and vaccinate against the mumps. measles-rubella (MMR). ) vaccine.
“MMR vaccines are very safe and very effective at preventing measles,” Newman told Ars in an email. “We offer MMR vaccinations weekly at Columbus Public Health, Monday through Friday. We haven’t seen an increase in MMR vaccinations here over what we usually do, but that’s not indicative of overall adoption as We don’t know what is being given by providers in the community.”
Ars contacted the Ohio Department of Health, which tracks vaccination rates in the state, but figures for the city of Columbus and Franklin County were not readily available. We will update this story as they are provided.
However, statewide vaccine rates have dropped during the pandemic, as have dangerous misinformation about vaccines. In the 2019–20 school year, 92.4 percent of Ohio preschoolers had received an MMR vaccination. But in the 2020–2021 school year, coverage dropped to 89.6 percent. Public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say a rate of 95 percent is ideal for preventing spread. In addition, statewide numbers may obscure areas with extremely low vaccination rates, where vaccine-preventable diseases can easily spread.
Measles, a virus that spreads through coughing, talking or just being in the same room with someone, is estimated to infect 90 percent of unvaccinated people who are exposed. Once infected, symptoms generally appear seven to 14 days later, beginning with a high fever that can reach over 104°F, cough, runny nose, and watery eyes. A few days after that, a telltale rash develops.
In the decade before a measles vaccine became available, the CDC estimated that the virus infected 3 to 4 million people in the U.S. each year, killed 400 to 500, hospitalized 48,000, and caused encephalitis (swelling of the brain) in 1,000.
Measles was declared eradicated in the US in 2000, meaning it is no longer continuously spreading in the country thanks to vaccination. But it has not been eradicated globally and so is still brought into the country from time to time by travelers, posing a constant threat of outbreaks in areas with low vaccination rates. If measles is brought in and continues to spread for more than 12 months, the US will lose measles elimination status, which it nearly lost in 2019.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to correct a typo. Measles was declared eradicated in the US in 2000, not 2020.