The Ohio measles outbreak continues to expand, with cases now totaling 81 — a 37% increase in the course of just 2 weeks.
The lead health official where the outbreak is occurring said the driving force behind the spread is vaccine hesitancy. Most of the children infected were unvaccinated but were old enough to get the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) shot, which is 97% effective at preventing measles.
“I think these are individuals who are making a decision not to protect their children against vaccine-preventable diseases, and some of them are making a specific decision not to use the MMR vaccine,” Columbus Public Health Commissioner Mysheika W. Roberts, MD, told JAMA.
She said that parents’ refusal to vaccinate their children was due to a misconception that the vaccine causes autism.
“We’re sounding the alarm that if your child is of age and not vaccinated, they should get vaccinated ASAP,” Roberts said, noting that she hasn’t seen that happening more.
Health officials have predicted the outbreak, which started in November, will last at least several months. Measles is so contagious that 9 out of 10 unvaccinated people in a room will become infected if exposed.
All of the infections have been in children. According to the Columbus Public Health measles dashboard, of the 81 confirmed cases:
29 children have been hospitalized.
22 cases are among children under 1 year old.
No deaths have been reported.
Roberts said the hospitalized children have had symptoms including dehydration, diarrhea, and pneumonia. Some have had to go to the intensive care unit.
Measles infection causes a rash and a fever that can spike beyond 104 F. Sometimes, the illness can lead to brain swelling, brain damage, and even death, the CDC says.
One of the most recent cases was an infant too young to be vaccinated who lives 45 miles away from where the outbreak began, the Dayton Daily News reported. That’s the first case in Clark County in more than 20 years. At least 10% of kindergarteners’ parents in the region’s elementary schools opted out of vaccines due to religious or moral objections.
“We knew this was coming. It was a matter of when, not if,” Yamini Teegala, MD, chief medical officer at Rocking Horse Community Health Center in Springfield, told the Dayton Daily News.
This is the second measles outbreak this year. Minnesota tallied 22 cases since June in an unrelated outbreak, JAMA reported.
The Journal of the American Medical Association: “Amid Ohio Measles Outbreak, New Global Report Warns of Decreased Vaccination During COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Columbus Public Health: “Measles Public Report.”
The Columbus Dispatch: “Columbus Public Health announces fourth site with public exposure to measles case.”
CDC: “Top 4 Things Parents Need to Know about Measles.”
Dayton Daily News: “Infant with measles confirmed as first case in Clark County in 20 years.”