Editorial: The continuing need for vaccinations is clear
The region's measles outbreak ended just in time as thousands upon thousands of children return to classrooms and young adults head to college. All it might have taken to turn this outbreak into an epidemic was another round of exposures with unvaccinated and under-vaccinated children gathered en masse.
Given western Wisconsin residents' proximity to the Twin Cities — center of the outbreak — the good news as well as the renewed health warnings are just as important to them as they are to Minnesotans.
On Friday, state health officials declared the outbreak that started April 11 was finally over. The wait between the last case being identified July 13 and the Aug. 25 declaration was so long because the measles incubation period is 21 days, therefore the "all clear" can't come any sooner than twice that, namely 42 days.
Here's a key fact: Of the 73 confirmed measles cases involving those age 10 and under, 71 were not vaccinated.
So we're taking one last shot at urging parents to vaccinate their children before sending them off to school. Do it for their own good.
Measles can be deadly. This outbreak sickened 79 people, mostly children, and was the largest measles outbreak in Minnesota since 1990, when three people died.
The Minnesota Department of Health said the 2017 outbreak:
• Hospitalized 22 people
• Exposed more than 8,000 people to measles
• Put up to 500 people under unofficial quarantine — they were "asked" to stay home from school, child care or work because they were potentially infectious (i.e. unvaccinated and exposed to someone infectious)
"When you consider how many people were exposed and how many were susceptible, it's clear that the interventions helped keep the outbreak from being even worse," Kris Ehresmann, Minnesota Department of Health's director of infectious disease, said in Friday's news release.
In addition to the individual suffering and medical bills, the outbreak cost taxpayers plenty. The Minnesota Department of Health estimates it spent $900,000 in staff time, expertise, laboratory capacity and outreach. The outbreak also required significant collaboration among health care systems, schools, child care centers, workplaces and public health agencies, with Hennepin County as the epicenter spending an additional $400,000.
We mustn't become complacent just because this region—thanks to high vaccination rates—so rarely encounters outbreaks of preventable diseases. Measles exists elsewhere in the world and the virus more easily finds the sick and the unvaccinated than people might like to acknowledge.
"Measles is just a plane ride away," as Ehresmann puts it.
"This outbreak showed that preventing disease requires all of us working together," Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said in their joint statement. "Public health is a community, collective endeavor. It's what we as a society do together to ensure the conditions in which everyone can be healthy."
Be part of the endeavor. Vaccinate and immunize your loved ones against virulent childhood diseases. Make certain their shots are up to date and complete. You'll reduce the risks for everyone.