Measles has hit a Florida elementary school, killing more than 100 unvaccinated children

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Florida health officials on Sunday announced an investigation into a cluster of measles cases at an elementary school in a Fort Lauderdale area with low vaccination rates, as health experts fear it could become more widespread amid declining vaccination rates across the country. Will become common.

On Friday, Broward County Public Schools reported a confirmed case of measles in a student at Manatee Bay Elementary School in the city of Weston. A local CBS affiliate reported that the case was a third-grade student who had not traveled recently. On Saturday, the school system announced that three additional cases had been reported at the same school, bringing the total to four currently.

On Sunday, the Florida Department of Health in Broward County (DOH-Broward) issued a health advisory regarding the cases and announced it was launching an investigation to track down contacts at risk of infection.

At Manatee Bay Elementary School, the number of children at risk may exceed 100. Only 89.31 percent of students at Manatee Bay Elementary School were fully vaccinated in the 2023/2024 school year, well below the target vaccination coverage of 95 percent, according to a Broward County vaccine study reported by local CBS outlets. There are 1,067 students currently enrolled at the school, which shows that 114 students are vulnerable to the infection based on vaccination status.

Measles is one of the most contagious viruses known. It spreads through respiratory and airborne transmission. The virus can remain in the airspace for up to two hours after an infected person has been in an area. People who have not been vaccinated or have weakened immune systems are more susceptible, and 90 percent of susceptible people exposed to the virus will become infected. Symptoms of measles usually begin about eight to 14 days after exposure, but the disease can persist for up to 21 days. Symptoms start as a cough before developing high fever, runny nose, red and watery eyes and a rash. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infected people can be contagious from four days before the rash develops to four days after the rash appears. The CDC says about 1 in 5 uninfected people with measles are hospitalized, while 1 in 20 infected children develop pneumonia and 3 in 1,000 die from the infection.

People who are not immunocompromised and are fully vaccinated against measles (who have received two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine) are generally not considered at risk. Two doses are about 97 percent effective in preventing measles, and protection is considered lifelong.

DOH-Broward said it is now “identifying susceptible contacts who may be candidates for post-exposure prophylaxis through MMR or immunoglobulin.”

While the risk of measles in the US is generally low – the country declared it eliminated in 2000 – the risk of a large-scale outbreak is increasing due to declining vaccination rates. Many cases in the US are linked to travel from countries where the virus is still spreading. But, if a travel-related case comes to an area with low vaccination coverage, the virus could spread. Such was the case in 2019, when the country had 1,274 measles cases and the status of elimination was almost lost.

Health officials generally consider vaccination coverage of 95 percent or more sufficient to protect against ongoing transmission. In the years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, vaccination rates among U.S. kindergartners have dropped to 93 percent, and vaccination exemptions reached an all-time high in the latest data for the 2022-2023 school year. There are now at least 10 states that have vaccination exemption rates above 5 percent, meaning that even if every non-exempt child is vaccinated, those states will not have enough coverage to reach the 95 percent target. will be.

The CDC has counted 20 cases of measles in the U.S. so far this year. But this figure is till February 15; This does not include any Florida cases reported since Friday. In 2023, 58 cases of measles were reported to the CDC.

This story was originally published on Ars Technica.