New York is in the midst of one of the state’s largest measles outbreak in recent history as health officials work tirelessly to prevent it from becoming a full-on epidemic. At one local pediatric clinic, NBC reports that babies are on an “accelerated measles vaccination schedule, getting their first shots six months early and their second dose right away.”
So far, the news agency reports that 167 confirmed cases of the virus have been documented since September in what is now the worst outbreak since the 1990s.
"I would say this is the largest measles outbreak that New York state has had in recent history," New York’s State Commissioner of Health Howard Zucker told CNN.
"If you go back many decades ago when we weren't vaccinating, of course, there were probably more outbreaks, but in my memory, I don't know of a measles outbreak that was this significant," he continued. "We have immunized 13,000 children since this outbreak has begun."
According to a statement released by New York Department of Health earlier this week, the outbreak can be traced back to an initial unvaccinated child who contracted measles while on a visit to Israel, which has been experiencing an outbreak for several months. At least 55 cases of measles have been confirmed in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community alone.
“The increase in measles cases in Orthodox Jewish communities of Brooklyn demonstrates the importance of getting children vaccinated on time to prevent measles and not put other children at risk,” said then Acting Health Commissioner Dr Oxiris Barbot at the time.
Officials attribute the spread to a combination of anti-vaccination propaganda, lax enforcement by schools, and a growing trend for alternative healthcare. (The Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America strongly urge all parents to vaccinate their children in line with pediatric recommendations.)
Despite being eliminated in the US, last year more than 300 cases of measles were confirmed in at least half of US states – just four years earlier, that number nearly doubled in 2014 when an unvaccinated Amish community in Ohio experienced an outbreak. In both cases, the CDC reports that a majority of people who contracted measles were unvaccinated, helping the virus spread throughout unvaccinated pockets.
The vaccine is combined with mumps and rubella into one vaccine (MMR), which should be given to children on or after their first birthday with a second dose occurring before children go to school between 4 and 6 years old. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017 just over 90 percent of children up to three years received the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination – as much as 95 percent of people must be vaccinated in order to protect against outbreaks of the virus to achieve what is called herd immunity
Characterized by a fever and rash, the virus is highly contagious against anyone who is not vaccinated for up to four days before symptoms even occur (usually between 10 and 12 days after exposure). There is no medical treatment for the measles virus and most people will get better on their own with the treatment of symptoms.