measles

Ten Cases of Measles Confirmed in Florida Elementary School Outbreak

On Tuesday, the Broward County schools superintendent announced that seven children at Manatee Bay Elementary in Weston, Florida, have tested positive for measles. According to the Florida Department of Health, ten cases have been reported statewide.

Lawmakers and health officials are urging parents and state officials nationwide to take extra precautions to safeguard their children.

In a letter last week, Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo said the health department is “deferring to parents or guardians to make decisions about school attendance.” The letter also stated that “up to 90% of individuals without immunity will contract measles if exposed.” However, “Individuals with a history of prior infection or vaccination who have received the full series of the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) immunization are 98% protected and are unlikely to contract measles.”

“Because your child may have already been exposed, you should watch your child for signs and symptoms of the disease, including a rash that often develops on the face and neck before spreading to the rest of the body. Other symptoms include high fever, which can reach 105°F, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. All children presenting with symptoms of illness should not attend school until symptoms have fully subsided without medication.”

According to the most recent data from the Florida Department of Health, nine out of the state’s measles cases have been reported in Broward County, and all of those cases have involved children. Two of the children are younger than four years old.

The Florida Department of Health released a memo to healthcare workers, reminding them to report any suspected cases.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) lists measles as one of the world’s most contagious diseases, which spreads through respiratory droplets. The virus remains active and infectious in the air and surfaces for up to two hours.

“Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. It spreads easily when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes. It can cause severe disease, complications, and even death. Measles can affect anyone but is most common in children. Measles infects the respiratory tract and then spreads throughout the body. Symptoms include a high fever, cough, runny nose and a rash all over the body.”

Its complications include blindness, encephalitis (an infection causing brain swelling), severe diarrhea, ear infections, and pneumonia. “Measles itself also weakens the immune system and can make the body ‘forget’ how to protect itself against infections, leaving children extremely vulnerable.”

The organization also recommends that all children get the measles, mumps, and rubella MMR vaccine. Due to widespread vaccination efforts, the United States had eliminated measles in 2000. It is unclear what the vaccination status was for the children under four.

US Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, who represents the city of Weston, urged Florida Surgeon General Ladapo to declare a public health emergency and make it a requirement that unvaccinated children stay home during the outbreak.

In contrast to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, Ladapo’s advisory suggests that parents of unvaccinated children make their own decisions about whether or not to send them to school. The CDC advises unvaccinated individuals to remain home for at least 21 days after exposure, around the time it takes for symptoms to manifest.

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In addition to demanding that DeSantis do more to protect Floridians, Wasserman Schultz demanded that Ladapo resign or be fired.

“I would have thought he would have stepped in here or made sure there was some communication to ensure that irresponsible guidance isn’t issued by his surgeon general. And the fact that he hasn’t taken action to roll that back is representative of Ron DeSantis’s disinterest in keeping the public’s health safe.”

On Monday, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) Chief Medical Officer Marcus Plescia, MD, MPH, issued a statement responding to the outbreaks.

“Measles can be particularly serious for children and potentially deadly. At least 1 in 5 unvaccinated people in the United States who contract measles is hospitalized. Nearly 1 out of 20 children develop pneumonia, the most frequent cause of measles-related death in young children. Approximately 1 child out of every 1,000 with measles will suffer brain injury, potentially causing convulsions, deafness, or intellectual disability. For unvaccinated babies who contract measles, 1 in 600 can develop a fatal neurological complication.

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, but is still the most easily transmitted human virus presently in circulation. Thankfully, by following established public health principles, Americans can make informed decisions, prevent outbreaks, and protect our communities.

Vaccination is the best and safest way to protect children. Two doses of measles vaccine are more than 97% effective in preventing the disease entirely, and vaccinated people may continue to engage in routine activities even if they are exposed to someone with the disease.”

A total of 58 cases were reported last year, and 35 measles cases have already been reported in several states this year. With just 91.7% of Florida’s kindergartners vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella, the state is falling short of the national 95% vaccination rate target.