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County keeping close eye on measles outbreak

Mower County Community Health officials are hopeful the measles outbreak of the Twin Cities won’t reach Mower County, but they aren’t ruling it out.

Community Health Director Lisa Kocer updated the Mower County board this week about the outbreak in the Twin Cities that has reached at least 69 cases, mostly in the Somali community.

“I’m hoping it doesn’t come our way,” she said. “But you just never know.”

No cases have been reported in Mower County, and Kocer praised Mower’s school districts for doing a good job of ensuring students are vaccinated before they start school.

Kocer recalled getting the first notices from the Minnesota Department of Health in April on the measles outbreak when it was around six people.

While about 59 of the 69 cases to date come from the Somali community and 66 are children, Kocer noted three adults have contracted the measles, including one health worker whose vaccination had weakened.

Officials from the Mayo Clinic Health System – Southeast Minnesota Region reported each of its Midwest sites is vigilantly watching for cases of measles. Mayo is providing education about measles to patients and staff and screening when appropriate for signs and symptoms of measles.

The measles, mumps and rubella vaccination is considered effective 14 days after administration, and the vaccination is considered to be about 93 percent effective after the first dose and 97 percent effective after the second dose, according to Mayo Clinic Health System. Very few people who get the two-dose series will still get measles if exposed to the virus.

The current measles outbreak is the state’s worst since 1990. Measles, also known as rubeola, is caused by a virus and symptoms include rash, fever and cough, runny nose and/or watery eyes. Measles can be a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death.

“It’s highly contagious,” Kocer said. “It’s spread by coughing and sneezing.”

Because of high immunization levels, measles is no longer common in the United States; however, myths and rumors have spread about adverse effects of vaccines — which are widely discredited.

But in Minnesota’s large Somali-American community, many parents avoid the MMR vaccine because of unfounded fears that it causes autism.

“There is absolutely no correlation between autism and shots,” Kocer said.

An incident command team from the Minnesota Department of Health has been overseeing a coordinated effort to stop the spread of measles.

The team, which includes about two dozen members, had identified more than 7,000 people exposed to the virus at 11 child care centers, three schools and about 20 health care settings.