Confirmed Measles Outbreak In Suburban Chicago

Rebecca Miller

The Chicago Tribune reports that public health officials are warning that more measles cases are "likely." The announcement was made after it was confirmed that five infants who attend KinderCare Learning Center in Palatine were diagnosed with the highly-infectious disease.

This is the second appearance of the measles in Illinois within the last month. The first report was a suburban Cook County adult. The infected person visited a Palatine grocery store and health clinic.

As explained on WebMD, measles is caused by a virus. It is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or shares food or drinks. The virus can remain alive in the air and on surfaces for up to two hours. People are most contagious from four days before the onset of the rash and four days after the rash has appeared.

Most people are unaware that they have measles as the onset of the disease appears as a severe cold. Symptom include high fever, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, diarrhea, swollen lymph nodes, feeling very tired, red, sore eyes, and a hacking cough. Once these symptoms have abated, red spots appear in the mouth and then on the remainder of the body. Measles is a serious disease and can cause severe health complications, including pneumonia, encephalitis, and in rare cases, death.

If one comes in contact with the measles virus, it usually takes seven to 18 days for symptoms to appear. This is called the incubation period. Though it's not clear whether the adult case is connected with the day care cluster, officials told the Chicago Tribune that the public should expect additional diagnoses to emerge.

"There will be more cases. … We shouldn't be surprised about that," said Dr. Terry Mason, chief operating officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health. "The cat is out of the bag."

Measles was all but eradicated in the United States in 2000. However, the fraudulent 1998 medical report by British scientist Dr. Andrew Wakefield incorrectly linked the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism. According to Think Progress, the MMR shot has been particularly controversial, thanks to several prominent figures who tout the myth that it can cause autism in children.

Despite a lack of scientific evidence to Wakefield's report, it's had lasting effects. The result was an anti-vaccination movement where parents refused to vaccinate their children out of fear that they would develop autism. The result is the resurgence of measles and other preventable childhood illnesses. For example, the December measles outbreak at Disneyland in California has grown to more than 100 cases.

The five KinderCare children were all under a year old, meaning they were too young to get the vaccine that protects against measles, mumps, and rubella.

"Their immune response doesn't last," said Dr. Wendell Wheeler of Ingalls Memorial Hospital in south suburban Harvey to the Chicago Tribune. "It's a temporary response, which is why we wait until 12 months."

Children generally receive their first dose of the MMR vaccine at 12-15 months, followed by a second shot when they are 4-6 years of age.

Cook County health officials received calls on Sunday, February 1 about two infants with a fever and a rash receiving treatment at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. Lab samples were collected, and it was confirmed that the first infant tested positive for measles. By Tuesday, February 3, the day care staff notified the county of three other children with symptoms. Late Wednesday, the Illinois Department of Public Health confirmed a second case. County officials then told KinderCare to exclude unvaccinated children for 21 days — or until February 24.

Officials said they expect to get lab results for the three other suspected measles cases by early Friday. All of the KinderCare babies are being cared for at home, they said.

Unvaccinated children are among the most vulnerable to measles, which is one of the most contagious diseases, Dr. Wheeler said.

"The very young have small airways," he said. "The disease has thick mucus, and the two don't go together. They are not moving air well and they get into trouble. Pneumonia is often a complication in such cases"

Children who are too young for the vaccine or cannot receive it for medical reasons and children battling cancer or are immunocompromised are at risk, but generally are protected by the majority who are inoculated. This is called herd immunity.

However, when the vaccination rate drops below 95 percent, a community loses its herd immunity to highly contagious diseases such as measles.

"Herd immunity matters because the virus has no place to go," Dr. Wheeler said. "If it hits person one and they're immune and person two and they're immune … But if it hits person one who is not immune, well, it can increase exponentially."

Read more about the measles outbreaks at Disneyland here.