The public health costs of a measles outbreak

The public health costs of a measles outbreak

On March 13, 2013, a passenger returning to New York City from London brought back more than just the usual souvenirs: the youngster had a case of measles. This person ignited the largest outbreak of measles in the city since 1992, according to a recent study that traced the exposure while also tallying up the public health costs of the outbreak.

The highly contagious measles virus was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 after prolonged use of the MMR vaccine. However, not everyone in the U.S. wants to be vaccinated, and measles still lurks in other countries. When someone brings home the virus, easily transmitted through the air, it can set off a chain reaction among unvaccinated people.

The study in JAMA Pediatrics of the 2013 outbreak showed 58 people in two close-knit Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn were diagnosed with measles. None of them had been vaccinated, and many were not immediately placed into airborne isolation, which led to additional exposures in 11 health care facilities.

The symptoms of measles include fever, cough, inflamed eyes and a red rash that usually starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body. Exposures demands rapid reaction by public health agencies and medical facilities, with costly responses.

In this case, the team determined health care workers, about one-third of whom performed duties outside of their routine job descriptions, spent more than 10,000 hours on the outbreak. The direct cost to the New York City health department was nearly $400,000.

People certainly can make their own decisions about vaccines, and many opt out. This cautionary tale indicates this choice sometimes comes with consequences.

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