Report says measles risk is high in region

The rash from measles (CDC image)

A new report says Cook County is the most at-risk location in the country for the next big measles outbreak, but fortunately immunization levels against the disease among Evanston children are high.

The analysis of the county's risk, from researchers at the University of Texas at Austin published  Thursday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases is based largely on the number of flights between Chicago and global destinations where there is high prevalence of nonmedical exemptions from childhood vaccinations.

Data from the state board of education shows that immunization levels for children in Evanston schools, as of the 2017-18 school year, the most recent report available, are generally high.

They ranged from a high of 100 percent protection against measles at the Rice Children's Center and the Hill Education Center to a low of 96.84 percent at Oakton Elementary School. The average for all schools in the district was 98.68 percent

At Evanston Township High School, 99.03 percent of students were protected against measles, according to the state report.

“With O’Hare being one of the busiest international airports in the nation, these results are not particularly surprising,” said Dr. Judd Hultquist, assistant professor of infectious diseases at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. “Travelers to and from parts of the globe where measles is more prevalent confer a significant risk of an outbreak.

“It is estimated that 95 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated to effectively control the spread of measles. A drop in vaccination rate, even locally, puts the community at risk," Hultquist added.

“The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine confers lifelong protection with only one or two doses and is the most effective way to protect your family, Hultquist said. “When traveling, even just around the city, a few simple rules are amazingly effective at keeping you healthy: 1) wash your hands frequently, 2) avoid touching your face and 3) make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date.”

As for the broader issue across the county and nation, Dr. Robert Murphy, professor of medicine and biomedical engineering at Feinberg and the director of Northwestern’s Center for Global Health, said “This is not going away, and as the anti-vaxxers dig in their heels, it means the epidemic is here to stay.”  

He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending people get a booster shot if they were vaccinated in 1968 or 1969, when the vaccine was less effective. “Those people are a little more at risk, but it’s not like they’re at high risk,” Murphy said. “Still, they should go get a booster.”

So far this year the Illinois Department of Public Health says seven measles cases have been reported in the state, including one in March on the North Shore.

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