Authorities are looking into whether the measles outbreak concentrated in upper Manhattan may have spread through exposure at medical facilities, including emergency rooms and doctor's offices, the Health Department confirmed.
Measles is a highly contagious airborne disease that can be spread through respiratory droplets; it can hang in the air for two hours after an infected person leaves the area. Twenty cases -- nine children and 11 adults -- have been identified in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn thus far, and the Health Department is urging anyone who may not be vaccinated to get their shots immediately.
Dr. Jay Varma, the health department's deputy commissioner for disease control, says the outbreak may have spread because workers in those medical facilities didn't recognize the symptoms quickly enough to isolate patients and prevent them from spreading it to others.
“We know a number of people were exposed and possibly got their infection either at a doctor’s office or at an emergency room where they went and it took more time than it should have for them to be put in an isolation area where they couldn’t possibly infect anyone else,” Varma told The New York Times.
Varma didn't specify any facilities where lapses may have occurred. He said exposure in such places was common, but since the outbreak wasn't localized to any specific group of people, it may be more challenging to contain.
The first case connected to the outbreak was reported in February. The initial cases were in Inwood and Washington Heights in Manhattan, and in High Bridge, Morrisania and the Central Bronx. One case was identified in Brooklyn; the Health Department didn't say where the most recent case, confirmed Tuesday, was identified.
Four of the affected children were too young to have been vaccinated; three who had been vaccinated were 13 to 15 months old and two others had not been vaccinated by parental choice, the Health Department said. The affected adults range in age from 22 to 63 years.
Measles is a viral infection characterized by a generalized rash and high fever, accompanied by cough, red eyes and runny nose, lasting five to six days. The illness typically begins with a rash on the face and then moves down the body, and may include the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
As many as one in three people with measles develop complications, which can be serious and may include pneumonia, miscarriage, brain inflammation, hospitalization and death. Infants, people who have a weakened immune system and non-immune pregnant women are at highest risk of severe illness and complications.