Measles is spreading among children in Ohio two months after cases were first detected. As of Thursday morning, there are at least 82 cases of measles in central Ohio, officials said, all of which are children.
Columbus Public Health first announced an investigation into the outbreak on Nov. 9 after four confirmed measles cases were linked to a child care facility in Franklin County. All of those cases were among unvaccinated children with no travel history, officials said, as Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts urged parents to vaccinate their children.
By the end of the month, cases were linked to several more sites, including Polaris Mall, a church and a grocery store.
The number has since spiked, and as of Thursday morning, Columbus Public Health reported at least 82 cases, including 32 hospitalizations. All of those cases are among children 17 and younger, with nearly 94% of those cases infecting infants, babies and children up to the age of 5, health data shows. No children have so far died in the outbreak.
It so far appears that all of the children impacted by the outbreak are at least partially unvaccinated, meaning they have only received one dose of the necessary two for the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, known as MMR, although four children still have an unknown vaccination status. Children are recommended to get their first dose between 12 and 15 months of age and the second between the age of 4 and 6.
Measles symptoms – usually a high fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes – appear within a week or two after contact with the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with a rash appearing three to five days after their onset.
But “measles isn’t just a little rash,” the CDC says. “Measles can be dangerous, especially for babies and young children.”
The MMR vaccine is critical in preventing the spread of measles, as 90% of unvaccinated people exposed to the virus will become infected, Columbus health officials warned. About 1 in 5 people with measles end up hospitalized.
Ohio’s outbreak has already surpassed cases reported to the CDC in 2020 and 2021 combined and appears to make up the bulk of the nationwide cases in 2022.
Dr. Shannon Dillon, a primary care pediatrician at Riley Children’s Health in Indiana, told CBS News this week that most of the outbreaks seen in the past decade are “clustered in unvaccinated people.”
“It’s hard to say what this one is going to do at this point because it seems like it’s early on,” she said. “…Anytime that you have a cluster of unvaccinated people who tend to associate with each other there’s always the chance that it will spread pretty quickly.”
Vaccine misinformation and a lack of primary health care providers have resulted in many parents being hesitant to vaccinate their kids against viruses like measles, she said. Vaccines remain “one of the most important things” that can be done to prevent the spread of diseases.
“Things like measles caused deaths of millions of children worldwide before the vaccine was available. And these are very safe vaccines,” Dillon said. “The measles vaccine has been available since 1963 and has really had to be changed very little since that time. So we have decades’ worth of data showing how safe they are — and it’s something if you have questions about, you should feel comfortable talking to your child’s regular doctor.”