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Measles outbreak in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish areas continues to climb

NYC Cracks Down, Requires Kids to Get Shots

December 13, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Measles is continuing to spread among ultra-Orthodox families in Brooklyn. Shown: Children gather on a sidewalk near school buses in Borough Park, one of the neighborhoods where the disease has been found. AP file photo by Bebeto Matthews
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The number of confirmed cases of measles in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community increased to 42 this week, up from six cases in October, according to the NYC Department of Health (DOH).

The city has begun barring kids who haven’t had the required measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine from attending school, which includes Jewish religious yeshivas.

The first Brooklyn child with measles acquired the infection on a visit to Israel, where a large outbreak is occurring, according to DOH. The highly-contagious disease has since spread among children (and a couple of adults) in Borough Park and Williamsburg.

Dr. Joseph Kaplovitz, pediatric specialist at NYU Langone Stepping Stones clinic in Borough Park, told the Brooklyn Eagle that he expects to see more measles cases.

“I do suspect it to go on for another month or two,” he said. “The problem is, it’s very contagious. There’s a 90 percent chance you’ll catch it if you’re in a room with someone who has it and you’re not immunized.”

It can be contagious even before the rash shows up, he added, so if the office suspects a child has the disease they will be met outside the office, outside in the fresh air, so they don’t bring the infection inside.

Two of his patients have been confirmed as having the disease and he suspects he saw two more cases this week.

While most of his Orthodox patients — roughly 95 percent, he estimated — have been immunized, there’s “lots of misinformation” still being spread by anti-vaxxers.

“They may believe conspiracy theories, like [the vaccine] causes autism, even though that idea has been shot down. Mercury and preservatives are another reason — even though there’s more mercury in a can of tuna fish,” he said. “While they have some valid concerns, when we do a risk-benefit analysis we see that the side effects of the vaccine are exceedingly small compared to the bad the measles can do.

Since the city starting requiring the measles shots, “We’ve had patients come in, and that the only vaccine the child has. But now they can go to school.”

Kaplovitz said the closeness of the Orthodox Jewish community contributed to the disease’s spread.

“We’re amongst each other,” he said. “We spend a lot of time together. In a way, that’s better; we don’t spread it to anyone else.” He said it was appropriate for the city to ban non-immunized children from schools. “It’s prudent to have kids stay home if they don’t have their two MMR shots.”

To fight misconceptions, the city has reached out to the Orthodox community, and Kaplovitz’ office hands out a 30-page pamphlet prepared by a rabbinical organization that explains the benefits of vaccination, how vaccines are made and tested, and other details.

Vaccination is required for all children 2 months to 18 years old who go to child care, public school or private school.


Started in Israel, Spread to New York

The disease, which causes fever and a rash from head to toe, has been nearly eradicated in the U.S. but still exists in other countries. The initial Brooklyn case was acquired by a child on a visit to Israel, where a large outbreak was taking place.

Besides Borough Park and Williamsburg, the infection has been spreading in Hasidic villages in upstate New York — New Square and Muncie — and in the Orthodox community in Lakewood, New Jersey, Kaplovitz said. Other cases have broken out at a related Orthodox community in Rockland County.

While not as deadly as now-eradicated smallpox, which looks similar to measles in its early stage, many do not realize how serious measles can be. In the pre-vaccine era, roughly 6,000 measles deaths were reported in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Young children, the immunocompromised and non-immune pregnant women are at highest risk for severe complications, including pneumonia, brain damage, deafness or even death.

The vaccine was introduced in 1963, and measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000. But as vaccination rates have dropped, the disease has experienced a comeback, particularly in Orthodox and other ultra-religious communities, such as the Amish.

The number of parents against mandatory vaccines has also increased, especially in the western states. The LA Times estimates that 10 percent of children in private and religious schools in California go without protection from childhood diseases.

The decline in vaccination rates across communities has led to the resurgence of diseases like measles and mumps, and recent outbreaks “have demonstrated the importance of an integrated infection prevention response,” according to research presented in June at the 45th Annual Conference of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).


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