New York City declared a public health emergency over an outbreak of measles on Tuesday, requiring unimmunized people in one neighborhood to get vaccinations, as health officials weighed in on chances of the disease spreading through the Northeast corridor.
Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at a press conference in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where measles has surfaced within the Orthodox Jewish community, where vaccination has been discouraged. "This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” he said. “The measles vaccine works. It is safe, it is effective, it is time-tested."
De Blasio said that unvaccinated residents in certain ZIP codes of Brooklyn were required to get the vaccine, and those who didn't comply could be fined up to $1,000. The NYC outbreak follows a similar one upstate in Rockland County, with 167 cases reported as of last Friday.
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This month, reports of measles hit a new weekly high nationwide, and the Northeast is the locus of the latest outbreak. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 465 cases have been diagnosed in 2019 — the second-highest number since measles was eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 — with New York and New Jersey accounting for more than half the cases in the country. In the first week of April, 78 cases have been diagnosed, with Massachusetts reporting its first patient, the CDC said. Florida, Indiana and Nevada also reported their first cases in that time.
Both outbreaks in New York have been ongoing for several months and are related to travel to Israel, where there is a large ongoing measles outbreak, Dr. Thomas Clark, deputy director of the CDC's Division of Viral Diseases, told Metro. "We always worry about travel and spread of measles. Anytime measles is brought into a community with suboptimal vaccination coverage, it can spread," he said. Although Clark confirmed the report of a single case in Boston, he said the CDC had not received reports of outbreaks in Boston or Philadelphia as of Tuesday afternoon.
"We are monitoring the situation in New York, but there is no outbreak of measles in Boston at this time," Caitlin McLaughlin, a spokesperson for the Boston Public Health Commission, told Metro on Tuesday.
Although the New York City measles outbreak follows an outbreak of mumps in Philadelphia that began last month, the two diseases tend to spread for different reasons. Measles outbreaks usually result from unvaccinated people traveling to countries in which vaccination is not required. The MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine becomes less effective against mumps over time, so even people who receive it as children could develop mumps as an adult when exposed in close social environments like college, said Clark. "Unfortunately, we see mumps despite high vaccination coverage, and we have measles when vaccination coverage is low," he said. Two doses of the MMR vaccine as a child should provide sufficient lifelong protection, but sometimes a third dose is recommended during an outbreak.
Measles is caused by a virus and is characterized by a high fever and full-body rash, which can progress toward serious complications like pneumonia and seizures, the CDC says. Experts say that anyone concerned about exposure should consult their primary care doctor about their vaccination history.