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Measles cluster in Monroe County grows to 7; linked to unvaccinated children

A cluster of measles cases in Monroe County is linked to unvaccinated children.
Juan Vazquez and Brett Dahlberg
A cluster of measles cases in Monroe County is linked to unvaccinated children.

An outbreak of measles in Monroe County – the worst since the state health department began tracking yearly data – has now sickened seven children.

There is one clear commonality: “The important through-line that connects all of these – all seven measles cases in Monroe County – is that all seven of them are unvaccinated,” said Ryan Horey, the county health department’s public information officer.

“Measles is an extremely contagious illness, and I think these cases indicate just how important it is for everyone in the community to get vaccinated,” Horey said.

The outbreak started with a toddler who traveled to Ukraine and likely contracted the virus there. That case wasreported in early January.

Then, that toddlercame in contact with two siblings in Spencerport who were also unvaccinated. They likely passed on the virus to a neighbor, who yesterdaywas confirmed to have measles, said Horey.

Those two Spencerport siblings are part of a family with five unvaccinated children, all of whom are now showing symptoms of measles, bringing the total of infected children to seven.

“There’s a lot of detective work that goes into unraveling the spread of a disease,” Horey said. “You learn where the families have been; you follow the clues and confirm them.”

The family of five has agreed to keep their children quarantined at home until they are no longer infectious, Horey said. “If they did not want to comply, we have legal measures, such as a court order, to compel quarantine, but that was not necessary.”

These cases are the first time measles has been reported in Monroe County since 2014, and it’s the first time since the state started tracking data a decade ago that the county has had more than one.

Measles is a dangerous disease,representing one of the leading causes of blindness among children in countries where vaccination is not widespread, and killing400 to 500 children a year in the United States before vaccination programs began decades ago.

Parents of children who are vaccinated have no cause for concern in this current outbreak, Horey said. And even for children who are past the recommended age for vaccination, it’s not too late. Horey said if a child missed the recommended dates, even if it’s years late, a pediatrician can put together a make-up schedule.

Still, some people can’t be vaccinated. These are children who have compromised immune systems or have had severe allergic reactions to other vaccines, for example.

“That’s why herd immunity is so important,” Horey said. “You don’t just get vaccinated for yourself. You get it so you can stop the disease from spreading and infecting other people who aren’t eligible for the vaccine.”

Brett was the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
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