Measles outbreak hits Chicago: Kane County urges vaccination checks

In response to the Chicago area's largest measles outbreak in recent memory, Kane County’s lead health authority is advising residents to verify their vaccination status and get caught up with any missing shots.

The Chicago Department of Public Health has confirmed 15 measles cases, with the first detected on March 7 in a resident with no recent travels but connections to international visitors. Subsequent cases, including at least six in a Pilsen migrant shelter, underscored the infection’s ability to rapidly spread.

Despite the focal point of the infections being at the migrant shelter, Michael Isaacson, the executive director of Kane County’s Public Health Department, told a committee of county board members Wednesday that the outbreak is more of a concern with the downward trend in people being vaccinated.

“Measles is a vaccine-preventable disease,” Isaacson said. “This is something we effectively got rid of in this country because we’ve had a strong vaccination program. Unfortunately, over the last several years we’ve started to see more people opting not to vaccinate their children, and that is putting them at risk.”

Isaacson said measles poses the same danger, whether brought by U.S. residents traveling internationally or found among Chicago's recent migrants.

“This is not just an immigration issue,” Isaacson said. “If people are vaccinated, that’s not a problem. As we see fewer and fewer people getting vaccinated, that becomes a problem.”

Isaacson said there are no reported measles cases in Kane County at the moment. Nevertheless, he urged residents, particularly children, to get vaccine protection against measles if they don’t already have it. He said statistics show that one in five children with measles will become severely ill, requiring hospitalization. Some children may die in the most severe cases.

Residents unsure of their vaccine status can check with their medical provider or look up their vaccination records on the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Vax Verify website.

Isaacson said residents who are vaccinated should feel confident they have “great protection” against getting a measles infection that will cause them serious illness.

“No vaccine is 100%, and efficacy can wane over time,” Isaacson said.

Health officials said anyone experiencing measles symptoms should contact their local health care provider and avoid going directly to a local emergency room unless otherwise directed. Measles can linger in the air for up to two hours after an infected person leaves, creating a potential for a widespread local infection if people just show up at a busy hospital.

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