Minnesota health officials have confirmed five new cases of measles in young children in Hennepin County, bringing the total number of cases in the outbreak to eight.
All eight are unvaccinated children ranging in age from 1 to 4, the Minnesota Department of Health said in a Friday night news release. Seven of the cases have occurred in the Somali-American community, it said; the department offered no information about the eighth patient.
“This outbreak is about unvaccinated children, not specific communities,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said in the news release. “Unfortunately, the Minnesota Somali community has been targeted with misinformation about vaccine risks. We’re partnering with Somali community leaders and health care providers to counteract that misinformation.”
Seven of the eight cases occurred among people who have been in contact with one another, according to Kris Ehresmann, infectious-disease division director of the state Health Department. Six of the affected children have been hospitalized.
Ehresmann said the Health Department is working with the Somali-American community to alert people to the outbreak.
Local and state public health departments are “investigating how the children became infected and are working with people known to be exposed to inform them of recommended protective actions,” the department said.
In 2000, measles was declared officially eradicated in the U.S., but international travelers exposed in other countries can spark new infections here when they come in contact with someone who doesn’t have immunity. Almost all measles cases in this country have occurred among the unvaccinated.
In 2014, the United States experienced a record number of measles cases, with 667 cases from 27 states reported — the greatest number of cases since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
From Jan. 1 to March 25 of this year, 28 people from 10 states that didn’t yet include Minnesota (California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Washington) were reported to have measles, the CDC says. In 2016, 70 people from 16 states contracted it. In 2015, 188 people from 24 states and the District of Columbia were hit, many of them infected in an outbreak linked to a California amusement park.
Minnesota sees a small number of cases each year; in the past four years there were just two cases annually, according to the state Health Department. But in 2011, a small outbreak resulted in 26 cases. All were imported or linked to foreign travel.
Measles is still common in many parts of the world, including some countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa, according to the CDC.
Health officials said most Minnesotans are immune to the disease as the result of being vaccinated or having had the disease. “We want as many Minnesotans as possible to protect themselves and their families by getting vaccinated,” Ehlinger said.
Measles is highly contagious and spreads easily by coughs, sneezes or close contact. Symptoms include a high fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes. It is also typified by a rash that spreads from the head down to the rest of the body. Untreated, it can lead to severe illness that requires hospitalization or even to death.