Minnesota has spent $1.5 million in the past year to combat three infectious disease outbreaks — including the largest measles outbreak in three decades — and health officials notified Legislative leaders Monday that they want to tap a special public health fund to defray additional costs.
Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota Health commissioner, said the Health Department will need about $600,000 for the current fiscal year, which started last week, to help control the spread of measles, drug-resistant tuberculosis and syphilis. The special fund was approved by the 2017 Legislature, to pay up to $5 million for public health emergencies.
Although the measles outbreak is winding down — no new cases have been reported for a month — department officials want $100,445 to continue prevention work. About half the money would fund a temporary employee to conduct outreach to the Somali community, including efforts to increase measles vaccination rates.
Measles has sickened 78 people in this year’s outbreak, and nearly 9,000 people have been exposed to the highly contagious virus. So far, state efforts to contain the outbreak have cost $534,000.
An outbreak of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, primarily within the Hmong community in the east metro, has cost $626,000, and health officials are asking for $224,635 for the coming year.
The outbreak has affected 10 elderly individuals, including two who died, and there is concern that the disease will spread to relatives who have regular contact with those sickened. Some family members have tested positive for a latent form of TB, according to state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann.
Finally, the department is requesting $288,503 to fight a 30 percent increase in syphilis cases, including an outbreak in American Indian communities this year in north-central Minnesota. First identified among Indians in Mille Lacs County, where 42 cases were reported, including six pregnant women, the outbreak has included related clusters of five infections in Red Lake County and four cases in Crow Wing County.
So far state efforts at controlling syphilis have cost $336,000.
Under the law authorizing the public health fund, the state will make a formal request soon to the Legislative Advisory Commission, a standing committee that can take action or request more information from the Health Department.