Local Health Officials React to NE Iowa Measles Cases

April 23, 2019 10:56 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- It was just two years ago a measles outbreak cropped up in Minneapolis.

Health officials say it’s a vaccine-preventable disease, but in recent years, cases have been on the rise across the country.


Now, there are two confirmed measles cases in Northeast Iowa, but health officials say it was less than two decades ago when measles was declared “eliminated” from the United States.

“Measles nowadays with modern travel is a just a plane flight away, and we’ve got an international airport in Rochester,” said Graham Briggs, director of Olmsted County Public Health.

It has public health officials across the country, including in Minnesota and Iowa, on high alert.

“Unfortunately, measles is about the most contagious virus that we work with or that we know of,” Briggs said.

“The measles is a very bad respiratory virus, and this virus is so incredibly contagious. It can live in the air up to two hours after somebody who is sick with it leaves a room,” said Bethany Bjorklund, an immunization nurse at the Cerro Gordo Department of Public Health.

Public health officials say people who don’t have the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine are putting themselves and others at risk.

“Measles is an excellent virus at infecting humans. If you haven’t had measles before or been vaccinated for it and you’re exposed to it, you will get it,” Briggs said.

While some people choose not to get vaccinated because of religious beliefs, there are others who can’t get vaccinated.

“The challenge is that there’s some pockets of population that are under-immunized, so when a measles case is introduced into those pockets of population, you know, it sort of lights like a wildfire,” said Jayne Griffith, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health.

People with compromised immune systems – who are undergoing chemotherapy, radiation or have an auto-immune disease, along with young kids, typically can’t get vaccinated.

“Vaccination isn’t just about you or your family,” Briggs said. “It’s really about protecting the community as a whole.”

For public health officials, spreading the word that measles is preventable is a key step in preparing for a potential outbreak.

“The science says immunization is safe. There’s no linkage to autism or other diseases associated with this and it does protect against a severe and potentially fatal disease,” Briggs said.

He said measles kills one to two people out of every 1,000 that it infects, and has about a 20 percent hospitalization rate.


Alice Keefe

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