Early Warning

Our View: A Measles Outbreak Threatens The Region's Immigrant Communities

April 15, 2009

Measles, long a scourge of childhood before the development of effective vaccines, has practically disappeared in the United States. Today, most Americans either were vaccinated as children or got the disease before they entered school and are now immune.

That's not the case for people who weren't born in this country, however, many of whom remain vulnerable. That's why health department officials are taking urgent steps to contain an outbreak of measles in Montgomery County, where four cases were reported this year. That may not sound like a lot, but because measles is very contagious, every precaution must be taken to keep it from spreading through the area's large immigrant community.

Prevention requires identifying and isolating victims so they can't infect others. Officials have linked three of the four victims to a traveler from China who brought the disease back with him; they have yet to determine how the fourth victim, a Hispanic woman, got infected. In each case, health workers contacted anyone who may have come in contact with the virus. They also alerted area medical personnel to be on the lookout for patients with measles symptoms, such as runny nose, fever and skin rashes.

Maryland's uptick in measles parallels those in other states. Pennsylvania reported half a dozen confirmed cases this year, and officials there are taking similar precautions. It's a reminder that although modern medicine has virtually eradicated many once-common illnesses, it's a small world after all and international travel can bring diseases to our shores within a matter of hours that put whole communities at risk.

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