A measles outbreak in the Columbus, Ohio area has nearly tripled in the past two weeks, with officials saying they are struggling to identify the geographic spread of the outbreak and expect it to last months.
Confirmed cases rose from 18 in mid-November to 50 confirmed cases as of Friday morning. Twenty of the cases required hospitalization. No deaths have been reported.
Absolutely not all sick children are vaccinated. Nine of the cases are in babies under the age of 1, who are usually not yet eligible for vaccination. Twenty-six cases involve infants aged 1 to 2 years, who are eligible for their first dose. Ten cases are in toddlers aged 3 to 5 – some of whom would have been eligible for their second dose – and there are five cases in children aged 6 to 17.
At a press conference earlier this week, health officials said at least 25% of 2-year-olds in the region had not been vaccinated with the safe and effective MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Based on census data from Franklin County, which encompasses Columbus, that means tens of thousands of area children are vulnerable to the highly infectious virus that can easily become severe and even life-threatening in young people. children.
Measles is an airborne virus that is transmitted by coughing, talking or even being in the same neighborhood as an infected person. In indoor spaces, the virus can persist in the air for up to two hours after an infected person has passed through. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 90% of unvaccinated people exposed to the virus will become infected.
“I expect our numbers to continue to grow,” Columbus Public Health Commissioner Mysheika Roberts said at a news conference this week. “Talking to the CDC and our colleagues across the country who have had measles outbreaks, it can last for several months.”
Local health officials are now working closely with the CDC and Nationwide Children’s Hospital to treat cases and try to curb the outbreak. But Roberts acknowledged at the press conference that they were still struggling to understand the scale of the outbreak.
For example, in some responses to a measles outbreak, health officials may make the decision to preemptively vaccinate infants aged 6–11 months if they are considered to be at high risk of infection. Infants are usually eligible for their first dose of MMR at 12 months, with a second dose given between 4 and 6 years of age. But this early vaccination strategy is usually deployed when epidemiologists can identify communities at risk, which is not the case in Columbus.
“We’ve had discussions with the CDC about this,” Roberts said. “Communities that have done this in the past have been able to really define the geographic location of where the cases are. We’re not sure we can really narrow down the geographic area. So we’re looking at that from We are working with our CDC colleagues [and] really trying to map out where these cases are to see if there’s a segment of our community that we could offer as an option for parents.”
Roberts noted that, so far, the outbreak spans three public health jurisdictions: Columbus Public Health, Franklin County Public Health and the Ross County Health District. Ross County is approximately 47 miles south of Franklin County, with another county, Pickaway, in between.
“Get them vaccinated now”
In addition to the three geographic areas, Roberts also noted three specific locations where confirmed cases were known to have been contagious, which included a grocery store, church and mall. She listed the locations, dates and times of potential exposures down to the hours, factoring in the possibility that the virus could linger for up to two hours.
“We have no way of educating individuals in these areas without going through the media,” Robert said.
The 50 cases so far are all counted from November 7 and are considered to have originated from the spread of the virus in the local community. There were four other cases linked to travel to the region earlier in the year, between June and October. It’s unclear how the current outbreak began, but officials suspect it’s linked to one of the earliest travel-related cases.
The current total of 54 measles cases in Ohio in 2022 represents the bulk of the total number of cases in the country. The CDC has listed a total of 55 cases nationwide as of November 24. But the number of cases is expected to rise in Ohio. And with anti-vaccine sentiments set in and vaccinations missed during the pandemic, health experts in the United States and around the world are bracing for a fierce resurgence of the highly contagious virus.
Vaccination against measles is highly protective and the best weapon against the potentially deadly infection. Roberts pleaded with local parents of unvaccinated children to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible with the virus swirling around their community.
“I strongly encourage these parents to get these kids vaccinated — now. Don’t wait. Don’t wait until after the holidays. Get them vaccinated now,” Roberts said.
She added that local health officials had opened vaccination clinics in recent weeks but had not seen an increase in the number of children receiving MMR vaccines.
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