Brooklyn Boro

Measles outbreak continues to slow, with no new cases in August

August 23, 2019 Paul Frangipane
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

The number of confirmed measles cases in New York City has risen to 654 since September 2018, but there haven’t been any new cases of the disease this month, continuing a steady decline from previous months and a sharp drop-off from the spring.

April saw the most new measles cases this year at 194. With the help of a city vaccination mandate, a state law and various pro-vaccination campaigns, that number dropped to 99 in May, 22 in June, six in July and none in August as of Aug. 19, according to city Department of Health statistics.

“Reports of measles in New York City have slowed down over the past few weeks, which is great news, but we do remain cautiously optimistic,” said Dr. Jennifer Rosen, chief of DOH’s Vaccine Preventable Disease Surveillance Unit. “We’re cautiously optimistic because measles cases continue to occur in other parts of New York and this together with international importations of measles … pose ongoing risks.”

The increase in total confirmed cases, 18 of which came from Williamsburg and 13 from Borough Park — the two neighborhoods hit hardest by the outbreak — comes from retrospective cases DOH found after the patients had been cured.

The outbreak reached its peak when Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency on April 9, requiring mandatory measles-mumps-rubella vaccinations for residents who live in the northern Brooklyn ZIP codes of 11205, 11206, 11211 and 11249. Vaccination rates in Williamsburg responded with a rise from around 70 percent to about 92 percent.

The outbreak began spreading in the fall of 2018, when six Brooklyn children contracted the disease. The initial case was acquired by a child on a visit to Israel.

Rosen said the city saw peaks in vaccination rates after the mandate and after each educational campaign that DOH ran. Since October 2018, more than 33,000 doses of the MMR vaccine were administered to children in Williamsburg and Borough Park — double the rate of last year during the same time period.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation on June 13 that removed religious exemptions from school-required immunization, creating a multi-facetted attack of the outbreak.

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“These different things combined have been incredibly successful at increasing vaccination rates,” Rosen told the Brooklyn Eagle.

With public schools opening back up in a matter of weeks, the city will be launching a new advertising campaign early next week to remind parents to get their children vaccinated before school. DOH has also been contacting school principals and parents to make sure they know about the new state legislation on religious exemptions.

“The outbreak is not yet over,” Rosen said. “We’re not yet in the clear because we still have cases within the past two incubation periods.”

An incubation period is 21 days from the last exposure, meaning people are at risk of getting sick for 21 days since they’ve been in contact with someone who has measles.

“The best way to protect yourself and your family members from measles is by getting vaccinated,” Rosen said. “The measles vaccine is very safe and it’s very effective.”

Rosen says that in the midst of a campaign of anti-vaxxers seeking to undermine the city’s mandate, spreading around a misinformation magazine that proved successful in steering some parents away from vaccinations for their children.

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