A measles outbreak in Philadelphia may have spread to neighboring Delaware, health officials fear.
An unvaccinated patient with the disease traveled to the First State to visit a local healthcare facility while still infectious on December 29, potentially spreading the disease to others.
Eight measles cases have now been confirmed in Philadelphia, among unvaccinated adults and young children — but there are thought to be more.
Experts are urging everyone to get the measles vaccine, saying it is on ‘all of us to protect each other as a society, as a human family’ — and warning falling inoculation rates risk more outbreaks of the disease and ‘a lot of deaths’.
MMR vaccination rates have fallen from 95 to 93 percent of kindergarteners nationwide since the Covid pandemic, amid surging anti-vax sentiment.
Eight measles cases have been confirmed in Philadelphia so far, with officials warning it is possible more could still be diagnosed (stock image)
For the 2022-2023 school year three percent of kindergartners had a vaccine exemption from one or more required vaccines. This is an increase from 2.6 percent during the 2021-2022 school year and the highest the US has ever recorded
There are about 50 cases of measles recorded in the US each year — with most linked to international travel to a country where the disease has not been eradicated.
The last major outbreak occurred in 2022, when more than 80 cases were recorded in Ohio — mostly among children who had not been vaccinated.
Measles is one of the most infectious diseases ever recorded — with just a tiny amount able to trigger an infection.
It is spread via respiratory droplets or touching contaminated surfaces, with patients suffering a characteristic rash that erupts on their face and then spreads across the body several days later.
The disease is particularly dangerous for children under five years old, pregnant women and the elderly.
Patients can develop pneumonia and encephalitis — or inflammation of the brain. About three in every 1,000 children infected die from the disease.
To prevent infections, everyone is urged to get the measles vaccine — dubbed measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine — which is 97 percent effective against the disease from the age of 12 months.
But vaccination rates in the US are now falling — with 93 percent of kindergarteners nationwide now having got the jab by the time they start school, which is below the target of 95 percent.
While the shift may seem small, it means that thousands more children across the US now do not have protection against measles compared to previous years when the rate stood at 95 percent.
CDC data for the 2021-2022 school year shows a 10 year low of MMR vaccination rates among kindergarteners. Vaccination rate varies by state – with Alaska, Wisconsin, DC and Ohio revealed as those with the lowest percentage of MMR vaxxed kids
The above map shows the state by state rates of vaccination exemptions for the 2022-2023 school year, highlighting the top five states with the highest percentages of exemptions
In Philadelphia, rates dropped to 92.8 percent of kindergarteners in 2023 — from 97.4 percent in the year before the pandemic. And in Delaware the rate has fallen to 95.1 percent in 2023 from 96.5 percent in the previous year.
Revealing the potential infection, the Delaware Department of Public Health said: ‘[We] are acting quickly to identify and prevent the spread of disease.
‘Officials are working to identify anyone who may have been exposed, checking their vaccination status, warning them about potential exposure and issuing quarantine and exclusion orders where necessary.’
Officials said the potential measles exposure took place in Kent and New Castle counties — which make up two thirds of the state.
They did not reveal the name or location of the clinic where people were exposed to an infected patient, or how many people were potentially exposed to the virus.
The outbreak began in Philadelphia late last month when an unvaccinated child who had recently visited a country where measles is common was admitted to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
Doctors took two days to diagnose the infection, local media reports, by which time the disease had spread to two children in neighboring beds.
One was too young to be vaccinated — with the MMR only offered to children over a year old — while the second had not been vaccinated.
A parent of the second child has also tested positive for measles.
Despite orders to quarantine, one of the infected patients visited a daycare center — which has led to two further cases.
Yesterday, another two cases were confirmed including one outside the city of Philadelphia.
Philadelphia’s Department of Health says it is following up with people who have been to nine locations between December 19 and January 3.
This includes eight hospitals and one daycare center in Philadelphia. Of the hospitals, two are outside Philadelphia — with one in Meadowbrook and the second in Abington.
Officials are urging everyone to get the measles vaccine which is 97 percent effective against the disease.
Philadelphia has seen its proportion of kindergarteners vaccinated against measles drop consistently since the pandemic to a low of 92.8 percent — below the 95 percent target.
Before the pandemic, the rate was 97.4 percent in the age group. But for the year 2020 to 2021, it fell to 94.9 percent among kindergarteners, and then down to 94.3 percent the following year.
In Delaware, the MMR vaccination rate among kindergarteners is also falling — dropping to 95.1 percent in the year 2022 to 2023 compared to 96.5 percent in the previous year.
This tracks with the levels nationwide, which stood at 95 percent between 2019 and 2020 for kindergarteners before falling to 94 and then 93 percent.
Experts warn the falling vaccination rates are leaving America more exposed to diseases that were once eradicated.
They also say they the rise in vaccine hesitancy is being triggered by the Covid pandemic, with pharmaceutical companies accused of overselling the strength of their vaccines.
There was also a media storm over rare side effects such as blood clots, which may have made many more cautious about receiving jabs.
Measles was declared eradicated in the US after a successful vaccination campaign, but cases continue to crop up every year — triggered by travelers coming from abroad.
The US recorded a total of 48 measles cases in 2023, down from the high of 121 measles cases in the year before.