MN health chief: $5M needed now to stem measles, other outbreaks

Amira Hassan, of Burnsville, wears a mask to protect her from measles.
Amira Hassan, of Burnsville plays in the waiting room at the specialty clinic at Children's Minnesota in Minneapolis on May 2. Amira went to the clinic for a routine wellness check, but had to wear a mask to help protect her from measles after an outbreak has sickened 50 children in Minnesota.
Amy Forliti | AP file

Updated 1:45 p.m. | Posted 10:07 a.m.

Minnesota's health commissioner is calling on lawmakers to build a $5 million emergency fund into their final budget deal to fight measles, tuberculosis and syphilis outbreaks that are straining the state's public health system.

State and local public health officials are battling infectious disease outbreaks including "multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, hundreds of new cases of syphilis and, now, the largest measles outbreak the state has faced in nearly 30 years," Dr. Ed Ehlinger said in a statement Wednesday.

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The most recent data show 51 cases of measles confirmed in Minnesota the past four weeks. Most are concentrated in Hennepin County and involve unvaccinated children within Minnesota's Somali-American community.

Children's Minnesota hospital on Wednesday confirmed one of its clinical workers is among the three adults who've contracted the disease. Measles has also been confirmed in Ramsey County, and a case also popped up in Crow Wing County in central Minnesota.

The Crow Wing County case raised a warning flag for Minnesota health authorities, who worry the circle of people exposed to the disease is widening and they may need to reach for stronger tools to stop it.

Officials have called on people with measles to voluntarily avoid contact with other people for 21 days. If that doesn't work, the state can get a court order to quarantine people within their homes, although officials have stressed there are no cases currently where quarantine is being considered.

Ehlinger on Wednesday stressed the need for an "immediate" contingency fund given that "significant threats to public health are becoming more frequent and costly." He also noted health officials were pressed last year in their vigilance responding to concerns about the Zika virus and in 2014-15 for Ebola preparedness.

"We really need a fund at the state level so we can respond to these things quickly and effectively and not have to figure out where the dollars are going to come from, which really delays that response," Ehlinger said.

The commissioner estimates state and local health departments have spent nearly $3 million so far this year responding to measles, tuberculosis and syphilis alone. Gov. Mark Dayton, he added, backs the $5 million contingency fund.