Minnesota measles outbreak bigger than all cases in 2016… for entire US

Minnesota’s measles outbreak has surpassed the number of cases in the whole of the US last year. Health officials and imams in the Somali-American community are working to prevent the spread of the deadly disease during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

As of June 1, there were 73 confirmed cases of measles in Minnesota in 2017, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) said, compared to a total of 70 recorded measles cases in the entire US in 2016, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At least 8,250 Minnesotans have been exposed to measles in day care centers, schools, hospitals and clinics, state health officials said.

The vast majority of victims in the Gopher State ‒ 68 of them ‒ have been unvaccinated, and most are preschool children. A significant number have been hospitalized. Of the 73 cases, 60 are in the Somali community.

The outbreak “has nothing to do with being Somali,” Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease control for MDH, told CNN. “It’s just the sheer fact of being unvaccinated.”

The anti-vaccine movement has targeted Minnesota’s Somali-American community. At a recent community meeting about the outbreak, an anti-vaccine advocate handed out fliers that claimed “some children suffer permanent brain damage from the vaccine, and some die from it,” Public Radio International reported.

The spread of misinformation about the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine’s link to autism has had a devastating effect on the community. Its vaccination rate dropped from 92 percent in 2004 ‒ which was higher than the state average ‒ to just 42 percent.

Much of the disinformation about vaccines in the Somali community comes from British researcher Andrew Wakefield, who first proposed a link between vaccines and autism in a paper which has been widely discredited as fraudulent. Wakefield visited Minneapolis at least three times in recent years, including during a smaller outbreak among the Somali-American community in 2011. During that meeting, he downplayed the severity of the disease, a state health official told the Washington Post.

Autism occurs in about one in 32 Somali children, compared to one in 36 white children, according to a 2013 University of Minnesota report. Citing numerous studies on the MMR vaccine, the CDC states that “there is no link between vaccines and autism.”

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