Health officials in Minnesota fear that an outbreak of measles will occur unless vaccination rates rise. Six cases, all in children aged 4 or younger, have been reported in Minneapolis so far this year. In contrast, only six cases of measles had been reported in Minnesota since 2005. According to the Star Tribune, officials say that the infectious disease seems to be spreading, especially among the Somali community.
Four of the children who have contracted measles have been hospitalized and have recovered. Officials are tracing the outbreak to a Minneapolis-born child who contracted measles on a trip to Africa; they are now tracking down people who may have been exposed to the infected children. In some cases, families are being asked to keep their children home for three weeks if they have not been vaccinated.
Symptoms of measles include fever, cough, and a rash that spreads down from the scalp and through the body. The disease is highly contagious. For every 1,000 children who contract measles, one or two will die, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health officials are now focusing on Somali families: Since 2008, there have been a number of reports of a high autism rate for Somali children in Minneapolis. Due to widespread and very much unfounded notions that vaccines might somehow be connected with autism, many Somali parents have been fearful of having their child vaccinated.
Dr. Osman Harare, a pediatrician in Minneapolis who is Somali, is urging parents to have their children vaccinated:
“We need to do some big campaign … to tell the people the vaccine doesn’t have any link with autism,” Osman said.
At the same time, the fears have been ingrained in the Somali community because of the rising numbers of children with autism, said Idil Abdul, co-founder of the Somali American Autism Foundation in Minneapolis. “Yes, measles is bad. Nobody wants measles. Nobody wants malaria, and certainly nobody wants autism,” she said. The frustration, she said, is that there is no known cause of autism, and “it’s not something you want to gamble on.” She said public health officials need to take their concerns seriously, while spreading the message about the need for vaccines.
Proponents of the belief that there must be an environmental cause for the dramatic increase in the autism rate in the past decade—once considered a rare condition, autism is now diagnosed in about 1 in 110 children in the US—have seized upon the high rate of autism in Somali children in the Twin Cities as evidence of a ‘cluster,’ with some pointing the finger at a theory that a Vitamin D deficiency can be linked to autism and also to vaccines with—as the Minneapolis measles cases suggest—has had dangerous results.
More and more evidence refutes any link between vaccines and autism. But it is clear that vaccinating a child against measles can prevent her or him from contracting the disease and, potentially, spreading it to others.
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Photo of Nigerian child with measles by Mike Blyth (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.