Metro Detroit measles outbreak prompts push to get children vaccinated

Hospital officials across state band together to get message out

DETROIT – Hospital officials around Metro Detroit are trying to drive home a point about getting vaccinated against the measles: It could be a matter of life and death.

There have been almost daily updates on the measles outbreak in Oakland and Wayne counties, whether there are new confirmed cases or additional exposure locations. There hasn't been any sign of the outbreak dying down, though.

Wednesday was an important date in the outbreak because it's been 21 days since the last day the first patient was likely spreading the virus. Experts say 21 days is the outer limit for the incubation of measles, so going forward, it's likely that new cases would be from a different source than the initial patient.

The first patient was diagnosed March 13 in Oakland County. Since then, a total of 33 cases have been confirmed in Oakland County, and one case has been confirmed in Wayne County.

The outbreak has affected people from 8 months old to 63 years old, and because the most serious complications are more common in young people, hospital officials around the state who work primarily with children are banding together to send a message, urging parents to vaccinate their children.

"You should make the choice for your child, but also for your neighbor," said Rudolph Valentini, chief medical officer at Children's Hospital.

Valentini is monitoring the return of measles.

"This disease was declared eradicated from the United States in 2000," Valentini said. "It's back, so it's only back because we let our guard down."

Now there's a push to get the guard back up and vaccinate because measles is a dangerous, but preventable, disease.

"To pediatricians, it's very frustrating," Valentini said. "Measles is a much deeper-seated infection that causes pneumonia, ear infection, hearing loss, brain damage, death."

He said that's why pediatricians are banding together.

"We feel like it's the responsible thing for us to do as a pediatric community," Valentini said.

The outbreak has also impacted the Jewish community in Oakland County.

"There's certainly an anxiety about the perception that this might be a Jewish community event and something that our community can be blamed for," said David Kurzmann, of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Kurzmann said there are a lot of misconceptions about the Orthodox community.

"It is not a hotbed of anti-vaxxers," he said. "This is a community that's taking this situation very seriously."

Jewish community leaders are urging people to get vaccinated.

"People are forbidden from leaving their homes, even to synagogue, if they have been in contact with this illness," Kurzmann said.

It's a community effort between residents and health officials to try to help eradicate measles once again.

About the Authors: