Officials: ‘More cases’ expected in measles cluster at Palatine day care center

Update: Several confirmed cases in the suburbs. All of the children are under the age of one.

Cook County health officials said Thursday that the public should expect more measles cases to emerge from a cluster associated with a Palatine day care center after five children were confirmed or suspected of having the disease.

“There will be more cases. … We shouldn’t be surprised about that,” said Dr. Terry Mason, chief operating officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health. “The cat is out of the bag.”

Public health officials are investigating the measles cluster at the KinderCare Learning Center at 929 E. Palatine Road. Two cases have been confirmed with laboratory testing. Of the three cases that are suspected but not confirmed, county officials said they should get specimens back later Thursday and know their status for certain by early Friday.

All of the cases involve children younger than 1. None of the five babies confirmed or suspected to have measles was hospitalized. All are being cared for at home, officials said.

All the confirmed or potential cases are infants who are too young to have received the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. None has parents who have opted out of the immunization, Mason said. Health officials declined to identify the communities the children are from, out of privacy concerns.

Thursday’s developments come about a week after Cook County officials announced the state’s first confirmed case this year of the respiratory disease, traced to a suburban Cook County resident that officials would identify only as being older than 18. At the time, officials listed three locations where others might have been exposed to the patient in mid-January — including two in Palatine.

Cook County officials say it’s not clear whether the adult’s diagnosis is linked to the children at the Palatine center or to the outbreak associated with Disneyland, which has grown to more than 100 cases, many of them in California.

Students and staff at the Palatine facility have been notified, and anyone who has not been vaccinated with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine has been instructed to remain at home.

Anyone at the facility who did not have an updated vaccination record is “excluded from the center” until Feb. 24, said Colleen Moran, spokeswoman for KinderCare, which runs 1,500 learning centers in the U.S. that offer care and schooling for infants through 12-year-olds.

Moran said the center was following the guidance of the Cook County Department of Public Health by keeping unvaccinated children and staff away from the center until that date, calling it “a precaution.”

“We just want everyone to recover quickly and to stay safe,” Moran said, adding that the center got a “deep clean” Wednesday night.

Cook County officials say any resident who is unvaccinated and experiences measles symptoms of a high fever and rash should call their local health department and their doctor.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease that can cause severe health complications, including pneumonia, encephalitis and death. The virus is transmitted by contact with an infected person through coughing or sneezing and can remain alive in the air and on surfaces for up to two hours. Infected people are contagious from four days before their rash starts through four days afterward, according to state and county health officials.

Children as young as those who were diagnosed with measles from the child care center are not recommended for the vaccine. That’s because “their immune response doesn’t last,” said Dr. Wendell Wheeler of Ingalls Memorial Hospital in south suburban Harvey. “It’s a temporary response, which is why we wait until 12 months.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians all recommend that children get their first dose of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine at 12 to 15 months old and a second shot at 4 to 6 years old, before starting kindergarten.

Despite a national MMR vaccination coverage level of 92 percent, 1 in 12 children in the United States are not receiving the first dose of MMR vaccine on time, underscoring considerable measles susceptibility across the country, according to the CDC.

Unvaccinated children are among the most vulnerable to measles, which is among the most contagious of all diseases, Wheeler said.

“The very young have small airways,” Wheeler said. “The disease has thick mucus, and the two don’t go together. They are not moving air well and they get into trouble,” he said, adding that pneumonia is often a complication.

If your child has only the first dose of the measles vaccine, he or she may not be fully protected. About 5 to 10 percent do not develop an adequate immune response after one dose, which is why a second dose is necessary, said Dr. Tina Tan, an infectious disease specialist at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

“If given at the appropriate interval and age, after two doses of measles vaccine a person is considered protected for life,” she said.

Those who are too young to get vaccinated are protected by the majority who are inoculated, called herd immunity.

However, when the vaccination rate drops below 95 percent, a community loses its herd immunity to highly contagious diseases such as measles, Tan said.

“(Herd immunity) matters because the virus has no place to go,” Wheeler said. “If it hits person one and they’re immune and person two and they’re immune …. But if it hits person one who is not immune, well, it can increase exponentially.”

The vaccine is required for Illinois students. Statewide, the percentage of schoolchildren who have complied with measles vaccination rules has remained about 98 percent over the past decade, according to the Illinois State Board of Education, which collects data from public and nonpublic schools. But that includes both those who got the vaccine and those who officially opted out of vaccinations for religious or medical reasons, according to the agency.

Heather Robinson took her 15-month-old for the MMR shot last month. The child broke out into a rash that covered every inch of her body; “it was even in her ears,” her mother said. “I was totally freaking out … I thought it was measles.”

It turned out to be a reaction to the shot. Still, the Homewood mother is glad she was proactive.

“I have friends who don’t vaccinate. … They admit that they’re depending on others to be responsible, which is kind of hypocritical.”

Some child care centers say they’re taking extra steps to ward off measles as its national presence widens.

At Blocks Infant Toddler Childcare in the South Loop, officials are having a pediatric nurse who normally visits the facility once a month come in twice to ensure that staff members are following best practices, said program director Aishah Fields.

The nurse also led a workshop with staff about recognizing the signs of measles and other information so all would be educated on the topic, Fields said.

“It takes the fear out and we feel equipped to handle it if something like that arises. We know what to look for,” she said.

The following two tabs change content below.
Dan Mullin is an active writer and editor for the Pluto Daily who covered the 2014 Ebola Outbreak. Mullin attended the Wake Forest School of Medicine before leaving to pursue his lifelong science goal of allowing humans to live forever via a computer/brain transfer.