Oakland County measles outbreak largest in MI since 1991

Laurel Kraus, Managing Editor

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As of Tuesday, April 2, there have been 34 reported cases of measles in the State of Michigan within age ranges 8 through 63. One case is in Wayne County, while 33 are in Oakland County.

“Earlier in the month, we had an individual who had traveled to Israel, returned to New York, and then traveled to Michigan,” said Lynn Sutfin, public information officer for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “At that time, he was contagious with the measles and did not realize it.”

As of the same date, there has not yet been a case of measles at the Oakland University Graham Health Center (GHC) and a great majority of younger students have been vaccinated for MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) according to GHC Director Nancy Jansen.

The average number of measles cases in Michigan annually is two according Sutfin, which makes this the largest outbreak in the state since 1991 when 65 were reported.

“I’ve been a nurse since 1980, [I’ve] never seen so many cases of measles in Oakland County before,” Jansen said. “It is shocking to me as a public health nurse that we could have such an outbreak here and that this could continue for a while because there’s some big outbreaks around the country.”

Being vaccinated with the MMR vaccine is the most effective way to prevent contracting measles. If students are unsure of their immunization status, the GHC can check for you with just your name and birth date.

“The vaccine is safe and effective, and it doesn’t hurt if you’ve previously had it, it’s not harmful to be revaccinated,” Jansen said.

She reported if people have been vaccinated, they are around 98 or 99 percent protected, while if they are not protected with the vaccine and are exposed, they have around a 90 percent chance of contracting it.

“Measles is one of the most highly-communicable diseases,” Jansen said. “Someone can have measles, sit in a classroom, cough and sneeze, leave the classroom, two hours later another class comes in, someone can get the measles from that person coughing and sneezing two hours ago.”

Symptoms of measles include a cough, runny nose, red, watery eyes, a high fever that may spike to more than 104 degrees, tiny white spots that can happen on the inner cheeks, gums, and roof of the mouth two-three days after symptoms begin, and finally a raised, blotchy rash starts on the face and spreads about three-five days after the symptoms began.

If someone suspects they are exhibiting such symptoms, they should isolate themselves immediately.

“Please do not rush right to your doctor’s office, the ready care or the ER,” Sutfin said. “Please call ahead. That is really key because they need to take some precautions to make sure it doesn’t spread to anybody else when you’re in their office.”

Oakland County has also been hosting numerous vaccination clinics, and since March 14, they’ve vaccinated 1,790 people, she reported.

Oakland County Health Division offices in Southfield and Pontiac are open Monday, 8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Tuesday–Friday, 8:30 a.m.- 5 p.m. on Telegraph and Greenfield roads.

Students can also be vaccinated at local drug stores or at the GHC as many insurances pay for this vaccine with no copay or deductible.

“This is going to be an ongoing threat,” Jansen said. “Even if by some miracle this outbreak resolves within a couple weeks, the risk for this happening again is going to continue to increase because of all these cases in the United States and in Europe because it’s so communicable and over the years, these anti-vaccers, [are at] the root cause of it.”

Students can remain updated on the outbreak through the Current Health Alerts tab on the GHC’s homepage.