Two young children in Dakota County are hospitalized -- one in critical condition -- in the second measles outbreak in Minnesota this year, state health officials said Friday.
The 1-year-old in critical condition fell ill in early August following a trip to Kenya, where the disease is widespread, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. A 15-month-old became ill after visiting the family of the first child.
Officials say neither child had been vaccinated.
Earlier this year, Minnesota reported the largest outbreak of measles in the country. A total of 23 cases were reported in Hennepin County between February and April, 21 of them linked to an unvaccinated child who had also returned from Kenya.
"Further cases are really just another plane flight away," said Dr. Aaron DeVries, an infectious disease specialist at the Health Department.
Measles is one of the most contagious illnesses known to medicine, and can cause severe complications and even death.
"That's why it's so important, particularly for young children, to make sure that they're vaccinated," DeVries said.
DeVries said there does not appear to be any direct connection between the new cases and the earlier outbreak, although there are similarities.
The latest cases both occurred in the Twin Cities Somali community, which was also hard hit in the first outbreak.
The earlier outbreak, which began in February, spread to unvaccinated children in the Somali community, as well as others in homeless shelters and elsewhere. A total of 14 people were hospitalized, most of them children, and all recovered.
Search on for others exposed
In the latest cases, both children have been hospitalized for days, and one is in "very critical condition," DeVries said. "It's an important reminder that measles is not a mild disease," he said.
Now, as before, health officials have fanned out to track down anyone who may have been exposed to the children while they were infectious. People who are not already immune can receive vaccines or a treatment called immune globulin to try to prevent infection, he said.
The Health Department also is asking clinics to be on alert for signs of the disease. The symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough, loss of appetite, watery eyes and a distinctive rash, which begins at the hairline and moves down the face and body. The rash usually begins two to three days after the fever.
Normally, children get their first measles vaccine between 12 and 15 months of age. But DeVries said children as young as 6 months old should get vaccinated if they're traveling internationally.
Although measles was virtually wiped out in the United States decades ago, there has been a resurgence in England, other parts of Europe and Africa as vaccine rates have declined, health officials say.
This year's outbreak in Minnesota prompted efforts to encourage vaccination in the Somali community, where resistance has grown because of fears of a link to autism.
"Contrary to misinformation that may still be circulating, the measles vaccine is safe and effective," said Kris Ehresmann, who heads the infectious disease and vaccine program at the Health Department. "Without it, the risk of disease is real."
Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384