NEW YORK (PIX11) – It is a staggering number: 16 measles cases reported throughout Washington Heights, Inwood and the Bronx, according to the NYC Health Department.
On Friday, parents were on edge with news of this potentially deadly disease spreading in their neighborhoods.
Casilda Lopez has an 11-month-old son. Not far from where she lives in Pelham Parkway, babies are coming down with the measles, and moms like Lopez don’t know where it’s coming from. Her son has been vaccinated; she is still concerned about what’s happening.
It can be deadly, and the NYC Health Department said that at least 16 people, nine of them young children, have now contracted the virus.
The highly-contagious virus was wiped out in the U.S. 14 years ago, but the New York City outbreak doesn’t seem to be slowing.
The children infected are 15 months and under. The adults are between 22 to 63 years old.
In some of these cases, adults thought they had been vaccinated but couldn’t provide documentation.
In some cases, kids were too young to vaccinate or parents chose not too, the Health Department said.
Dr. Nathan Litman encountered this outbreak firsthand as Director of Pediatric Infectious disease at Montefiore Children’s Hospital.
“We’ve had one child with measles admitted to the Children’s Hospital about two weeks ago,” said Litman.
According to the CDC, symptoms occur about 7-15 days after infection. They include fever, cough, red watery eyes, feeling run down and tiny white spots with bluish-white centers found inside the mouth
According to the CDC, worldwide the disease kills a hundred 64,000 people every year, and it can cause miscarriages.
NYC Health Department officials said babies should have the first vaccine dose at 12 months, and another at 4-6 years.
Exceptions if you think your child has been exposed, four cases have needed hospitalization.
The Department of Health, in a statement to PIX11 News, said that anyone in need of a free measles shot can call 311 for information on how and where to get one.
The disease, which leaves a red, or reddish-brown rash spread widely over the body for days, was common in the U.S. until 2000. That’s when a nationwide, comprehensive vaccination program in place for years resulted in the measles being eradicated in this country.
Occasionally since then, there have been outbreaks in some communities. In this latest case, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, of the 16 people who have contracted the disease, 9 of them are children, and all 16 cases were in the northern Manhattan neighborhoods of Washington Heights or Inwood, or in the south or central Bronx.
It’s a situation that medical experts describe as very serious. “Even in the United States, with modern technology,” said Dr. Nathan Litman, director of pediatric infectious disease at the Children’s Hospital of Montefiore, “one to three children [out] of every thousand who acquire measles die.”
Litman and his staff have encountered this latest measles outbreak firsthand. “We’ve had one child with measles admitted to the Children’s Hospital about two weeks ago,” he told PIX11 News in an interview on Friday.
“The consequences of measles are far, far worse than any adverse reaction related to the vaccine” for the virus, Dr. Litman said.
Litman added that side effects of the condition, if left untreated, range from ear infection to brain swelling to worse.
Measles shots are typically administered to children as part of a measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, inoculation when a child turns 12 months old, and again near their 4th birthday.
Also, for infants 6 to 12 months, who are not old enough to receive a measles shot, a medical professional can administer a gamma globulin vaccine that can help fight and prevent the disease.
Doctors also advise adults who have even the slightest suspicion that they’ve been exposed to the virus to get a shot immediately. The need is particularly strong, according to medical experts, in the neighborhoods where the diagnosed measles cases have occurred, in Washington Heights, Inwood and the Bronx.
“Measles is a highly contagious disease,” Dr. Litman said. “Household members who are susceptilbe to measles and are exposed have an 80-90 percent chance of developing measles. The measles is not a benign disease. It is a serious illness, and it’s better to prevent it than to acquire wild measles.”