A 5-year-old in Hennepin County’s Somali-American community has been sickened by the measles after returning from Africa, the Minnesota Department of Health said Tuesday.
The development comes nearly a year after a 2017 measles outbreak infected 75 children and adults — the state’s largest measles outbreak in roughly three decades. Most, but not all, were Somali-Americans in Hennepin County who had not been vaccinated for the infection.
Because measles vaccination rates in that community are about half that of residents statewide, public health officials are concerned that the highly contagious disease could find an easy path to infect others.
“We want to make sure that they are getting vaccinated, otherwise we have the potential to revisit what happened just over a year ago,” said Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease division director at the Health Department.
But unlike last year’s outbreak, the current case was caught fairly early, limiting the opportunity for exposure. Health officials estimate that the child was infectious for about eight days beginning July 30. In the 2017 outbreak, the first case went undetected for about two weeks, and other children in day care were exposed during that time.
This time, officials haven’t been made aware of any child care exposure, Ehresmann said.
There was some potential for exposure at a medical clinic and a hospital that treated the child, who was hospitalized and released. Public health officials are notifying patients and employees who might have visited the same areas where the child had been.
Measles spreads easily by coughs and sneezes, and has also been shown to linger in the air in rooms visited by those infected.
The child, who was not identified by state officials, was not vaccinated.
In last year’s outbreak, 91 percent of those infected had not received the measles vaccine. Ehresmann said state and local public health officials are reaching out to community members to boost vaccinations.
“While we had really great success and cooperation last year getting people vaccinated, since the outbreak we have returned to normal and vaccination rates have dropped off,” said Ehresmann.
Health officials are notifying doctors to be on the lookout for measles symptoms, which include a high fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes, followed by a rash that typically spreads from the head to the rest of the body. Symptoms can take eight to 12 days to develop after exposure.
Because measles is so easily spread, health officials say the best way to prevent infection is through vaccination.
Children should receive two doses of MMR vaccine: The first at 12 to 15 months of age, and the second at 4 to 6 years of age.
It is not unusual for Minnesota to see a few cases of measles each year. The disease has been eradicated in the United States, so new cases are imported by travelers. Europe is seeing a resurgence of cases, and the disease is common in Africa.
“We know that travel to those countries certainly puts people at risk,” said Ehresmann. “Thankfully, this case was caught early and public health was notified early.”