Minnesota's measles outbreak is growing – and it has now spread beyond Hennepin County.
The state Health Department confirmed a case in Stearns County Thursday and said the total number of cases they've diagnosed is up to 29. Apart from the Stearns County case, all of the others have been in Hennepin County. All the patients are five years old or younger.
Another new development Thursday involved vaccinations. Until now all of the cases involved children who were not vaccinated against measles. But when the Health Department added five more children to its tally Thursday it said one of the kids in this year's outbreak was vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella.
The 29 cases make this Minnesota's largest measles outbreak in more than 20 years, surpassing the 26 that were confirmed in 2011. The Health Department's totals show that in most recent years there have been only a handful of measles cases, sometimes none.
Carried by international travelers
Measles used to strike millions of Americans. In 1963 alone more than 3 million people got it and hundreds of them died, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says. But a vaccine was developed and by 2000 doctors announced the disease was eradicated from the U.S.
The problem is it's still around in other countries. When people who've traveled overseas come back with measles, it can easily spread to others who are not vaccinated. This month the CDC put out measles alerts for those traveling to Germany, Italy, and Belgium.
Outbreak centered in Somali community
At least 25 of the cases in the current outbreak involve Somali Minnesotans. The Health Department was not sure on Thursday about race or ethnicity in the other cases.
Not coincidentally, vaccination rates are lower in Minnesota's Somali community than in the general population – about half the rate, the Star Tribune says.
Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said this month: “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. "
In a more recent statement this week, Ehlinger made no mention of Somali Minnesotans and said: “This is about unvaccinated children, not specific communities.”
Vaccine is the best protection
The Health Department urges Minnesota families to get vaccinations for all children 12 months or older. They say adults who have not had measles and have not been vaccinated should also get the shots, which are administered in two separate doses.
A case of measles starts with symptoms like a fever and runny nose. Then comes a rash that covers the whole body. It's contagious; the germs are spread through the air when people sneeze or cough.