Four more cases of measles have been confirmed in Allegheny County, bringing the known number of cases to five, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will likely declare an outbreak, county health officials said Thursday.
“This is going to be considered an outbreak,” said Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department. “The CDC is likely to announce it. We’re not quite sure if they’ll call it an outbreak or a cluster. At this point, we would consider this an outbreak.”
Hacker said the four new patients are all from the same family. Three of them — one adult and two children — are visiting “from overseas,” she said. The fourth is an adult who lives in Allegheny County and was not vaccinated.
Only two of the four patients have reportedly been out of the house while they were infectious, she said. One, who is now recovered, was infectious while traveling. There was a risk of exposure at Pittsburgh International Airport between 7:30 and 10 a.m. April 16, Hacker said.
Another patient is currently in the hospital, Hacker said. That individual was at Enterprise Rent-a-Car on Babcock Boulevard on May 1, and there was a potential for exposure from 2 to 5 p.m.
Officials said the new four cases are unrelated to one announced earlier this week — an unvaccinated Allegheny County resident who recently traveled abroad. That woman was treated Monday at UPMC Shadyside and is recovering at home.
Dr. Graham Snyder, medical director of infection prevention at UPMC, would not say which facility the hospitalized new patient is at but stressed “there was no exposure or risk to any patients, visitors or health care workers.”
Health officials, however, urged anyone with symptoms not to go directly to their doctor, the emergency room or an urgent care facility, as it places others at risk.
Vaccinated people, elderly not at risk
Dr. Kristen Mertz, from the county health department, said the biggest preventer of measles is vaccination. Children should get two doses of the vaccine, one at 12 to 15 months old and a second at 4 to 6 years, according to the CDC. Children traveling internationally should have one dose of the vaccine at 6 and 11 months old.
Anyone born before 1957 is considered immune to the disease, and those who already have had the measles are safe, too.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease physician, told the Tribune-Review that the cases highlight the need for vaccinations.
“It’s not surprising that more cases of measles have appeared in Allegheny County and Pennsylvania given the number of measles outbreaks in the world,” Adalja said. “These cases did not have to occur and that they did is testament to how vaccine hesitancy leads to real consequences. The health department will now be tasked with finding contacts and protecting the public from this virus — a task that they will have to divert resources to because of the population’s irrational rejection of the measles vaccine.”
About 97% of Allegheny County kindergartners were vaccinated during the 2017-18 school year, according to Health Department data. That’s up from about 90% of kindergartners in 2011.
Measles is a highly contagious but vaccine-preventable disease that spreads through coughing, sneezing or other contact with the mucus or saliva of an infected person. Symptoms typically appear one to three weeks after infection and include rash, high fever, cough and red, watery eyes. An individual with the disease is contagious for four days before the onset of the rash to four days after the rash appears.
Editor’s note: Information on when a child should receive the measles vaccine has been corrected in this story.