South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

More measles cases confirmed at Broward school

- By Shira Moolten

Four students at Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston now have confirmed cases of measles, the Broward School District announced in a media release Saturday.

The first case of measles was confirmed Thursday night. Three more cases of the highly contagious illness have been confirmed since, according to Saturday’s release.

“The health, safety and welfare of our students and staff remain our utmost priority,” said John J. Sullivan, Chief Communicat­ions and Legislativ­e Affairs Officer for the district, in an emailed statement Saturday. “The District continues to work closely with the Florida Department of Health – Broward following three additional confirmed measles cases at Manatee Bay Elementary School. The school’s principal is keeping families informed and following health department guidelines to safeguard our community.”

The district notified parents and families about the first measles case on Thursday evening, Sullivan said. The child is a third-grader at the school, according to the Florida Department of Health. It is unclear what grade the other three students are in.

Medical experts are hoping to keep the spread of the disease as limited as possible, particular­ly as vaccinatio­n rates have decreased in recent years across the country and in Florida. They say parents of unvaccinat­ed children who may have been exposed should contact their pediatrici­an right away, while parents of vaccinated children have less cause to worry.

“The first thing parents need to understand is if their child has been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine … the chance of contractin­g measles is extremely low,” said Dr. Ronald Ford, Chief Medical Officer at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. “… The population of children that we’re really concerned about are those who are not immune.”

The measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is required for students attending public schools in Florida, according to the Department of Health. The vaccine is two doses, the first dose at 12 to 15 months and the second dose at 4 to 6 years old. It is highly effective at preventing the disease.

But parents have increasing­ly foregone the vaccine for their children in recent years, and as vaccine rates have dropped, vaccine-preventabl­e illness rates have increased.

At Manatee Bay, 92% of the 1,067 students are vaccinated, Sullivan said. That means 85 students are not.

Sullivan declined to say whether the students who became ill were vaccinated.

“It is a required series, but as with all requiremen­ts, there are exemptions for medical or religious [reasons],” he said.

Measles is highly contagious, spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

If one person has it, about 90% of people around them will also become infected if they are not protected by the vaccine or masks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“Certainly if you’re in a typical-sized classroom with a patient that’s infected, who’s coughing or sneezing, then you’re at risk,” said Ford.

Sullivan did not say if the students who have gotten ill shared a class, but did say that all students eat together in the cafeteria every day.

For the vaccinated, however, measles is rare, said Ford. The MMR vaccine is one of the most effective vaccines. About three in 100 people who get two doses of MMR vaccine can still get measles if exposed, according to the CDC. Even if they do get it, the virus will be milder, and those who have it are less likely to spread it to others.

Ford’s main concern is the unvaccinat­ed group. Parents of children who have been exposed but are not vaccinated should call their pediatrici­an or the Department of Health, he said. Because measles is so contagious, he encouraged keeping children home as much as possible, not bringing them to the doctor’s office.

“We are, to best of our ability, trying to keep kids that are sick home,” he said. “Measles is for almost all patients self limited. They get it, get sick and they get better. They don’t need to be at hospital; most don’t need to seek medical care at all.”

Children who are having severe symptoms should still go to the emergency room, Ford said.

Asked whether parents at Manatee Bay should plan on keeping their children home from school Tuesday, he said “every parent has to do what they’re most comfortabl­e with,” but “if a child is immune, the risk of contractin­g measles is very low even if exposed.”

Also at risk are children below

the age of 6 who have not yet gotten their second dose, immune-compromise­d children, or children who did not have the necessary immune response to the drug.

The first symptoms parents will see in their kids will be cold symptoms: coughing, red eyes, and often a high fever, upwards of 104 degrees. The rash typically develops later, starting on the head and face and spreading to the rest of the body.

People are contagious beginning the four days before the rash appears up until four days afterwards. Symptoms typically appear about one to two weeks after infection. In more severe cases, measles can cause pneumonia, and in rare cases, swelling in the brain.

For those who are not vaccinated or whose children are not, it’s not too late: you can get vaccinated at any time, Ford said, though the vaccine will not become fully effective until time has passed, and requires two doses. He anticipate­s some people “might want to reconsider their choice not to vaccinate at this point” because of the recent cases.

Measles was thought to be eradicated in the United States in 2000, but has recently made a comeback in some parts of the country as more Americans forego vaccinatio­n. Ford said he has witnessed the uptick at Joe DiMaggio.

“We see patients in the hospital relatively frequently who have vaccine-preventabl­e diseases, who were not vaccinated and become ill with that particular infection,” he said.

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