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NY hit by worst measles outbreak in a decade

By ZHANG RUINAN in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-03-14 22:41
[Photo/VCG]

At least 150 have come down with the virus; concerns raised about refusal of vaccines

The largest measles outbreak in New York City in a decade has sickened at least 150 people, and most of the cases have involved members of the Orthodox Jewish community, according to city health officials.

The outbreak emerged after an unvaccinated child returned from a visit to Israel, where a large outbreak of the disease is occurring, according to the city's health department.

The child infected at least 21 people with the virus at a school in the Williamsburg section of the borough of Brooklyn, according to The New York Times. The almost two dozen people who were infected weren't vaccinated either, according to the Times, which reported that the student didn't show symptoms of the virus while in class.

There are no deaths associated with the outbreak in the city, but there have been 11 hospitalizations, Michael Lanza, a spokesman for the health department, told China Daily in an email on Tuesday.

Almost 300 cases of the disease have been confirmed in New York state through the first week of March, primarily in Brooklyn and in Rockland County, northwest of the city. New York state's outbreak, which began last October, has gone on longer and infected more people than any other current outbreak nationwide, according to health officials.

Nationally, more than 220 measles cases were reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) between Jan 1 and March 7, more than half of all the cases reported last year.

In 2018, 82 cases of measles were imported into the US from other countries, the highest number of imported cases since the illness was eliminated, the CDC said.

Measles is one of the most contagious infections and can live for up to two hours in the airspace where an infected person breathed, coughed or sneezed, according to CDC.

Measles can cause pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and death, Lanza said, adding that the disease is preventable with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

The city's Health Department said that since the fall, about 10,000 people across the city had been vaccinated, and more than 7,000 of them live in the most-affected areas of Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn.

City officials said that they have struggled to increase vaccinations in certain communities because of the popularity of the widely debunked anti-vaccination movement, with parents declining vaccines for their children out of fear that they increase the risk of autism.

"Sometimes they hang up and they don't want to open the door," Dr Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, health commissioner of Rockland County, where 145 cases have been confirmed, told the New York Times. "It's hard to break an outbreak if you are not getting cooperation."

Amid concerns about the measles outbreak and the anti-vaccine movement, two New York state legislators proposed a bill that would allow teenagers 14 and older to get vaccinated without parental approval.

"We are on the verge of one [public health crisis] in this country because we are not immunizing to the degree needed," one of the bill's sponsors, Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, a Democrat from Albany, told China Daily.

She said that in the last couple of decades, people haven't taken immunizations seriously.

"Plus, there's been increased exemptions for philosophical differences as well as for religious exemptions, and that has led to just decreased immunizations overall," Fahy added.

"What happens is the World Health Organization has said that when you go below about a 92 to 95 percent immunization rate as a whole, you become more susceptible to [infectious disease] outbreaks and public health crises," she said.

"It's a wake-up call, and it's really to say we've got to stop the complacency, because parents are not only putting their own children at risk, they are putting other children and adults at risk when they don't immunize their children," Fahy said.

The New York chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics expressed support for the bill on Tuesday.

"New York has long recognized that for decision-making in health care, in terms of reproductive health care, mental health, substance abuse and emergency services, often adolescents and young adults have a clearer grasp of what kinds of health care decisions make the most sense for them," they said in a statement.

Contact the writer at ruinanzhang@chinadailyusa.com

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