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article imageMinnesota measles outbreak fueled by fear of Autism

By Karen Graham     May 6, 2017 in Health
Minneapolis - Minnesota health officials are scrambling to contain a measles outbreak that has mainly affected Somali-American children. So far, 44 cases of the highly contagious disease have been identified, mostly in Hennepin County.
As of Friday, May 5, the Minnesota Department of health has confirmed 44 cases of measles, with 41 in Hennepin County and two in Ramsey County with one in Crow Wing County. Of the total number of cases, 42 had not been vaccinated, while 43 were children below the age of 10. There was one adult.
In Minnesota, most two-year-olds get vaccinated against measles but health officials say that most Somali-American two-year-olds have not received the vaccine, a number that encompasses about six out of 10 children, according to NPR.
Michael Osterholm, the director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy expressed his concern, saying, "It is a highly concentrated number of unvaccinated people. It is a potential kind of gas-and-match situation."
This child with measles is showing the characteristic red blotchy rash on his buttocks and back duri...
This child with measles is showing the characteristic red blotchy rash on his buttocks and back during the 3rd day of the rash.
Measles is a highly contagious disease that can be fatal. Symptoms usually start with a fever, cough, runny nose, and watery eyes. Then a rash develops that usually spreads from the head to the rest of the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two doses of the vaccine are about 97 percent effective in preventing the disease.
The Washington Post is reporting that the current outbreak was identified in April. Nearly all of the cases have been in Hennepin County with nearly a quarter of them requiring hospitalization. And health officials are saying that due to the dangerously low vaccination rate, more cases are expected.
Anti-vaccine groups and pseudoscience behind the outbreak
Minnesota's Somali community is the largest in the United States and the roots of the current measles outbreak date back to 2008. At that time, parents were raising concerns over the disproportionately high rate of Autism Spectrum Disorder among their children.
This prompted a small survey by the state health department that did find an unexpectedly high number of Somali children in a preschool autism program. The findings further led to a University of Minnesota study that found Somali children had the same rates of autism as white children.
However, it was around this same time that health care providers began reporting that parents were refusing to have their children given the MMR vaccine. As parents sought to learn more about autism, anti-vaccine groups began showing up at community health meetings and distributing pamphlets, according to a longtime state health department nurse, Lynn Bahta.
Osterholm served as the state epidemiologist 30 years ago when the state had a measles outbreak that sickened 460 children, and three of them died. He says that outbreak still haunts him and he worries it could happen again.
"I think we could surely see a major increase in the number of cases beyond what we have now," he says. "With that comes the increasing likelihood someone will die."
More about Measles outbreak, Minnesota, SomaliAmericans, antivaccine activists, Autism
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