The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has confirmed six new cases of measles in Hennepin County children, bringing the total number of outbreak cases to nine.
All eight confirmed cases are unvaccinated children between the ages of 1 and 4 living in Hennepin County. Health officials are investigating how the children became infected and are working with people known to be exposed to inform them of recommended protective actions. Health officials will also monitor for additional cases over the next few weeks.
According to MDH Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann, seven of the confirmed cases are Somali Minnesotans. All but one have common contact. Six of the ill children were hospitalized.
“Measles can spread easily among unvaccinated people, and we’re working with the Somali community in the Twin Cities to alert people to the outbreak,” Ehresmann said. “The best way to protect yourself and your community is to make sure everyone has been vaccinated.”
Measles is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death. Symptoms include a high fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes followed by a rash that typically spreads from head to the rest of the body. It is highly contagious and spreads easily by coughing, sneezing or even being in the same room with someone who has measles.
Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but it is still common in other parts of the world. Ehresmann noted that Europe is currently experiencing a significant measles outbreak. Minnesota and other states still see sporadic cases – typically linked to international travel.
Most people in Minnesota are immune to measles either from having been vaccinated or from having had the disease. However, in recent years immunization rates have declined in some communities and groups – often due to fears related to misinformation about vaccine risks. This decline in immunization rates increases the risk – not only for those who are unvaccinated by choice, but also for those who cannot be vaccinated due to health status or age. Minnesota’s Somali community in particular has struggled with low rates of immunization due in part to misinformation about immunization risks.
“This outbreak is about unvaccinated children, not specific communities,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger. “Unfortunately, the Minnesota Somali community has been targeted with misinformation about vaccine risks. We’re partnering with Somali community leaders and health care providers to counteract that misinformation. We want as many Minnesotans as possible to protect themselves and their families by getting vaccinated.”
For more information on measles and for updates as the investigation continues, please visit the MDH website at www.health.state.mn.us.