Health dept. investigates 3 more measles cases

The Minnesota Department of Health is investigating three more cases of measles in children living in Hennepin County.

Today's announcement comes two weeks after an infant in Hennepin County was reported to have the illness. The three new cases were reported in children between 23 months and 4 years of age.

State epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield said three of the four children had not received the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine. One of those was too young to receive the vaccine. The state doesn't have vaccination records for the fourth child.

Two of the children are Somali. Members of the Somali community had expressed concern about possible links between the vaccine and autism.

"These were children whose parents were concerned about the safety of MMR," Lynfield said. "And we now know that it is extremely safe, and you know we are very concerned because there still is this misinformation out there."

Andrew Wakefield, a controversial and discredited autism researcher, had traveled to Minneapolis last year to meet with Somali families. Wakefield had published a paper in the medical journal Lancet in 1998 alleging a link between autism and MMR vaccinations. The journal later retracted the article, and a report published in January found that Wakefield's study was based on doctored information.

County health officials and the Department of Health are reaching out to health care providers and other leaders in the Somali community to encourage parents to have their children immunized.

Lynfield said more cases are likely to emerge in the next few weeks. People who have not been immunized and have a direct exposure to someone with measles have a 90 percent chance of contracting the illness.

High immunization rates have made the illness rare in Minnesota. Prior to the current four cases, there had been just six confirmed cases of measles in Minnesota in the last five years.

The Department of Health recommends that children receive two doses of the MMR vaccine. The first dose is usually given at 12 to 15 months of age and the second at four to six years. However, the second dose can be given as soon as one month after the first dose.

Given the recent cases, Lynfield urged parents not to wait more than a month before getting the second dose.

Many symptoms of measles can mimic those of other illnesses. They include fever, runny nose, and cough. But measles often can be distinguished by a distinct rash that begins at the hairline, moves to the face and neck, and then spreads to the rest of the body.

It usually takes eight to 12 days from an exposure for symptoms to emerge. The rash often appears two to three days after the fever begins.

Lynfield urged parents to call their pediatrician if they notice any symptoms in their children before showing up at a clinic. Special precautions can then be arranged, she said, to make sure that children aren't sitting in the waiting room and possibly infecting others.

The Health Department is urging parents to take advantage of free immunization clinics this month.

Hennepin County will hold an MMR vaccine clinic on March 21 from 3-6 p.m. on the first floor of the Health Services Building at 525 Portland Ave. S. in Minneapolis.

Children's Hospitals and Clinics will hold an MMR clinic on March 27 from 1-4 p.m. at its Children's Specialty Center, 3rd Floor Clinic, at 2530 Chicago Ave. S.

Both clinics will be open to children and adults.

More information on measles and vaccination is available on the Minnesota Department of Health's website.