How One Children's Hospital is Responding to the Largest Measles Outbreak in 20 Years

How One Children's Hospital is Responding to the Largest Measles Outbreak in 20 Years

The U.S. has seen its highest number of measles cases in nearly two decades. Beaumont Children’s Hospital is responding by upping communication with its staff and the public.

In 2000, the U.S. declared measles had been eliminated from the country, but it has made a resurgence this year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. has had more occurrences of measles in 2019 than any other year since 2000. By mid-May, 880 measles cases had been reported—surpassing the 667 confirmed cases for all of 2014.

A highly effective vaccination program resulted in decades of declining measles transmission. A complete absence of continuous measles transmission for more than a year led to the 2000 measles elimination decree. But the CDC says unvaccinated travelers have brought measles back from other countries where large outbreaks are occurring, such as Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines. The introduction of measles to U.S. communities with pockets of unvaccinated people has furthered the spread of the disease.

Measles outbreaks in eight areas

An outbreak is defined as three or more cases. The CDC reports confirmed measles in 24 states, identifying measles outbreaks in eight jurisdictions:

  • New York City, 523 cases
  • Rockland County, New York, 233 cases
  • Washington state, 79 cases
  • Michigan, 44 cases
  • California, 45 cases
  • New Jersey, 14 cases
  • Georgia, 6 cases
  • Maryland, 5 cases

Forty of those cases come from Oakland County, Michigan, where doctors at Beaumont Children’s Hospital in Royal Oak are taking extra precautions to curb the spread of measles in their community.

"We have become more vigilant," says Christopher Carpenter, M.D., infectious diseases expert, Beaumont Health. "Many physicians and medical staff had never seen a case of the measles prior to this outbreak, so we have strived to educate and inform our medical teams about the disease."

Communication is key to preventing the spread of measles

Additional efforts include proactive screenings for measles, signage at Beaumont Health facilities urging staff members and families to take appropriate precautions and a continued emphasis on vaccinations. And—in coordination with the Oakland County Health Department—the organization has stepped up public outreach via all communications channels, including news media and a dedicated page on the health system’s website.

Carpenter says effective and clear communication—for health care professionals as well as the public—is essential to preventing the further spread of measles. One important aspect that may seem counterintuitive to some: don’t see a doctor right away, but rather call ahead first to report your condition.

"Although many people want to rush to an emergency center when they suspect they might have measles, that’s typically not the best option," Carpenter says. "Measles is highly contagious. If a person with measles walks into an emergency center, he or she could potentially infect everyone in the waiting room. And, measles can live in the air for several hours, potentially placing additional people at risk long after the person with measles leaves."

Learn more about measles with the CDC’s resources for healthcare professionals.

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