An outbreak of measles that last week reached New York City has East End officials concerned.
Grace Kelly-McGovern, public relations director for the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, said it is essential that every child gets vaccinated. The virus can affect anyone, but primarily targets youngsters.
“It is a ticking time bomb,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, the Division Chief of Pediatric Infections for Stony Brook University Hospital. “It can kill you.”
Nachman said the number of cases reported so far, 600, is misleading. “Those are confirmed cases. For every positive blood test, there are 20 or 30 unconfirmed,” she said. “These cases are in our schools, going to the mall, etc. exposing other people.”
Dr. Nachman said that before the 1960s, when the measles vaccine became common, measles would sweep the country and hundreds would die as a result.
Kelly-McGovern said the vaccine is 98-percent effective, and though Suffolk County and school officials believe the effort to vaccinate children has been largely successful, there are clusters where that is not the case.
In Brooklyn, in some communities, particularly those of Orthodox Jews, parents do not have their children vaccinated. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency that would require unvaccinated individuals living in Williamsburg to receive the measles vaccine. The mayor said the city would issue violations and possibly fines of $1000 for those who did not comply.
Kelly-McGovern said children who are not inoculated are not allowed to attend school.
Nachman said rumors that the vaccine can cause autism have been completely debunked. She stressed underestimating the current situation could lead to a widespread outbreak.
As of this writing, there haven’t been any cases reported on Long Island.
“Everybody has been on heightened alert,” said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases for the Northwell Health System, which has major medical centers in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
According to Merck, measles affects about 20 million people annually worldwide, primarily in the developing regions of Africa and Asia. There were 73,000 deaths reported in 2014. The number of cases is beginning to trend upwards, officials warned.