After 5th Measles Case Found in Chicago, CDC Steps In

While Chicago is one of several regions in the United States experiencing an increase in measles cases in 2024, it's the only city receiving assistance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On March 11, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced that local health officials had identified five confirmed measles cases, sparking a citywide response.

According to a CDPH news release, health officials identified four cases at the Halsted Street migrant shelter in Pilsen and one unrelated to migrants arriving in the city.

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In response to the outbreak, health officials vaccinated more than 900 shelter residents with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine over the past weekend. Still, officials found that more than 700 shelter residents were already immune to measles from previous vaccinations or infection.

As part of the citywide effort to contain measles, the CDPH and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications are on-site at the migrant arrivals landing zone and providing MMR vaccines to unvaccinated individuals. Those who arrive with proof of vaccination will be placed into temporary shelters.

CNN reports that experts from the CDC are expected to arrive in Chicago on March 12 to assist local health officials with the measles outbreak. So far, the CDC has not sent its experts to other regions with confirmed measles cases.

According to the CDC, 45 measles cases had been identified in 17 states as of March 7, including Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York City, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.

Still, measles cases have occurred in previous years, with some years experiencing higher numbers than others. For example, 1,274 cases were identified in 2019, with case numbers ranging from 49 in 2021 to 667 in 2014.

In 2020, measles cases were the lowest since 2010, with only 13 reported cases, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moreover, most cases occurred among people not vaccinated against the disease.

The MMR vaccine is typically administered when a child is 12 to 15 months old, with a booster given between the ages of 4 and 6 years.

The CDC says one MMR dose is about 93% effective at preventing measles, and two doses are about 97% effective.

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However, health officials are concerned about the recent downturn in vaccination rates among children, particularly those entering kindergarten. According to a 2023 CDC report, coverage with two doses of MMR vaccine and vaccines for polio, varicella, diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis (DTAP) has decreased slightly over the past few years.

For example, the report indicates that during the 2021 to 2022 school year, coverage for all state-required vaccines was approximately 93%. From 2019 to 2020, coverage was 95%.

The CDC asserts that the MMR vaccine is safe, and there is no association between vaccines and autism — a highly debated issue of concern for some parents and one possible reason vaccine coverage may be declining.

The agency says recent research by the Institute of Medicine has found that the MMR vaccine does not increase the risk of autism.

However, according to a CDC statement, a 2004 study published in Pediatrics found that vaccination between 24 and 36 months was slightly more common among children with autism and that association was more robust among children ages 3 to 5.

The agency says the study's authors reported that this finding was most likely a result of immunization requirements for autistic children attending preschool special education programs.

Why is measles dangerous?

Measles is highly contagious and can infect up to nine out of 10 non-immune people exposed. Moreover, about one in five people infected with measles will be hospitalized. Out of 1,000 people who become ill with measles, one out of three will die from the disease.

Before the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963, an estimated 3 to 4 million people in the U.S. contracted the disease every year.

Symptoms of measles include:

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  • High fever, which may spike to more than 104° F
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red, watery eyes
  • A rash, which occurs three to five days after symptoms begin

In some cases, measles can lead to life-threatening complications, including pneumonia and swelling of the brain (encephalitis) — especially in young children, pregnant women, adults older than 20 years, and people with compromised immune systems.

Measles typically spreads among unvaccinated individuals. The CDC says that people who receive MMR vaccination by following the U.S. vaccination schedule are usually considered protected for life against measles and rubella.

Still, adolescents and adults who are not up to date with MMR vaccination or have not had a previous measles infection can receive a booster shot. However, some individuals may need two doses to achieve adequate immunity.

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