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Measles confirmed in Hennepin County siblings, one hospitalized

The two children developed symptoms soon after returning from a country where contracting measles is common.

MINNEAPOLIS — Editor's note: The video above first aired on May 7, 2019.

Health officials are investigating after a pair of siblings in Hennepin County were diagnosed with confirmed cases of the measles.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) says the preschool-aged children developed symptoms shortly after returning from a country where contracting measles is common. Neither child was vaccinated, and one had to be hospitalized due to complications from the viral infection. 

Investigators maintain the risk to the general public from these two cases is low as the children were isolated when symptoms started, and exposures were limited to their family and health care settings. MDH, Hennepin County Public Health staff, and hospital and clinic personnel are working to notify people who may have been exposed.

MDH has notified additional health care providers across the state to be alert for patients with symptoms of the measles. Those potential cases would likely pop up between now and July 1. 

Initial symptoms of measles include a high fever, cough, runny nose, and watery eyes followed by a rash that typically spreads from the head to the rest of the body. It generally takes eight to 12 days from exposure to someone with measles to develop the first symptom, which is usually fever. The measles rash usually appears two to three days after the fever begins. Measles can be a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death.

"We don't know what direction this is going to go. This may all just fizzle out in a week or two, or this may become a huge outbreak in the Twin Cities," explained Hennepin Healthcare Dr. Stacene Mroushek. "If you have one in five children that are not fully vaccinated and one infected person can infect 15 or 16 people, you can do that math." 

Health experts worry that vaccinations for measles, along with other illnesses, declined during the pandemic when attention turned to debate over the COVID vaccine. MDH cites recent data that indicates the percentage of 2-year-olds who had received at least one dose of MMR vaccine by 24 months of age declined from 81.4% in 2019 to 79.3% in 2021.

"It's something that spreads like wildfire once it gets into the community, so vaccinate now if you can," Dr. Maroushek urged. 

The Mayo Clinic website says measles are an infection caused by a virus that spreads easily, and can be serious, even fatal for small children. Among the symptoms are fever, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis), tiny white spots with bluish-white centers on a red background found inside the mouth on the inner lining of the cheek, and finally a skin rash made up of large, flat blotches that often flow into one another.

Four cases of measles have been reported in Minnesota since a major outbreak occurred in 2017, when a few cases within the local Somali community were missed and quickly spread to 75 people.

And for the medical community, measles isn't the only concern. Prior to the pandemic just 20% of two-year-olds were not up to date on their childhood vaccinations but in 2021 that jumped by double digits, with nearly 31 percent of two-year-olds still not up to date.

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