Measles Outbreak in Minnesota’s Community

Posted: Jun 27th, 2017 at 01:33PM - by e7 Health

Measles Outbreak in Minnesota’s Community

The latest public health problem in the Somali community living in metropolitan Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota is a recent outbreak of measles. The country's largest Somali community resides in Minnesota.

Measles joins active tuberculosis (TB) as a public health problem within the community in Minnesota. Between 2010-2014, 732 cases of active TB were identified in Minnesota. 593 of these, or 81 percent, were foreign-born. Breitbart News in October noted that according to a report, "The Epidemiology of Tuberculosis in Minnesota, 2010-2014," published by the Minnesota Department of Health, of the foreign-born cases, 296, or 50 percent, were refugees.

161, or 29 percent of the 593 foreign-born cases of active TB in Minnesota between 2012 and 2015, were attributed to Somali-born migrants. Breitbart News also reported that almost all Somali migrants to the US have arrived under the federal refugee resettlement program.

The Star Tribune reported that by Monday, 20th April 2017, the measles outbreak in Hennepin County had grown to 20 cases, after confirmation of eight new infections. According to state health officials, all the cases had occurred within the Somali-American community. They were urging parents to get their families vaccinated if they were not yet vaccinated.

Infectious diseases director at the Minnesota Health Department, Kris Ehresmann, says that the outbreak is expected to produce many more cases compared to the 2011 outbreak that resulted in 26 cases. All those who have so far caught the disease in this outbreak are below five years of age because the exposure has occurred at several daycare centers.

Given that symptoms of measles can take up to three weeks to develop, health investigators have been trying to identify unvaccinated individuals exposed to the virus since the first case was detected several weeks ago because the virus is highly contagious. Additionally, since the first case was identified, the Health Department recommended the acceleration of a second dose of the vaccine for Somali-American children who have received the initial shot. According to the Star Tribune, the officials said that this is common practice during outbreaks.

For the first time in the current measles outbreak, at least one baby under one year of age is included in the new infections. This age group has been of concern to public health officials because they lack immunity protection.

Of the vaccination records examined, investigators have found that 16 of those infected have never received the MMR vaccine. Records for the others who are also infected are still being collected. 

Symptoms of measles include a sore throat, coughing, a blotchy skin rash, and fever. The disease can lead to encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and pneumonia and is fatal in some cases.

child blowing noseAccording to a report by Mic.com, a health department official has said that the Minnesota Somali immigrant community has always been a particular target for the anti-vaccination movement, also known as "anti-vaxxers."

In a phone call, Ehresmann says that the anti-vaxxers are very interested in this community and are engaging and targeting it. She says that the anti-vaccine groups started targeting the Somali community around 2008. This was around the same time when there were concerns about autism among Somali-American children. These groups began reaching out to the Somali community and making appearances at community health meetings where they disseminated misinformation linking autism to the MMR vaccine. Consequently, since then, there has been a steady decline in MMR vaccine rates within the population.

It is reported that at least one high-profile figure among the anti-vaxxers has made special trips so as to speak to Somali immigrants. Mic.com adds that according to the Star Tribune, Andrew Wakefield, called the "father of the anti-vaccine movement," showed up in Minnesota in 2011 in the midst of the first major outbreak of measles in the state in years.

Ehresmann believes that this was not the first trip that Wakefield had made to Minnesota to speak with Somali families. She believes that the man had been to Minnesota before 2008 when the anti-vaccine movement was first arriving to spread misinformation.

The Star Tribune reported that Wakefield also traveled to Minneapolis where he held a private forum for Somali immigrants. At the time, the meeting was described as a "support group" for families with autistic children. The now-disgraced British doctor published the widely-shared and subsequently discredited paper that purportedly linked vaccines to autism.

Breitbart News reported in February that Hennepin County is also the site of two recently diagnosed cases of active TB at local public high schools. Minnesota public schools local officials also confirmed that another case of active TB had been diagnosed in Hennepin County recently. KARE-TV reports that the new case has been diagnosed in an individual at Central Middle School in Eden Prairie. As such, this is the second time in two months that Hennepin County Department of Health officials have given a confirmation that an individual at a public school within the county has been diagnosed with active TB.

TB test

In January this year, Hennepin County Public Health Department officials reported that there was a person at the Louis Park High School who had been diagnosed with active TB. Breitbart News reports that in a letter written to parents in January in English, Spanish, and Somali, St. Louis Park Public Schools informed them that there was a case of active TB.

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