Measles outbreaks strike NY, Israel Orthodox Jewish communities

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported the highest number of cases of measles in decades, with 229,068 in 2018.

A vial of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and an information sheet is seen at a hospital (photo credit: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER)
A vial of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and an information sheet is seen at a hospital
(photo credit: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER)
The New York Orthodox Jewish community has seen 121 cases of measles infections since October, the New York Health Department reported last week.
The report came only weeks after the World Health Organization (WHO) reported the highest number of cases of measles in decades, with 229,068 in 2018. That is nearly double the number reported in 2017.
The 2018 number could rise, as Member States have not fully reported measles cases and have until April to do so.
Within the New York Orthodox community, one report showed that most cases are children. According to an article published by Baltimore Jewish Life (BJL), which referenced the NY Health Department Report, some 108 of the cases were children under 18.
No deaths are associated with the New York outbreak, but there have been complications, including eight hospitalizations and one child who was in the intensive care unit. Further, 31 of the cases were only identified within the last two weeks, with five new diagnoses last week and another 26 retroactive diagnoses.
A retroactive diagnosis is one where the person is only identified as having measles after the symptoms had subsided.
Most of the cases were reported in Borough Park and Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Four of the cases contracted the illness in Israel, where a large outbreak is likewise occurring. One case contracted measles in Ukraine, while another contracted the illness in the United Kingdom.
The New York Health Department has been working with elected officials, community organizations and religious leaders since the beginning of the outbreak to educate residents in affected zip codes about the risks associated with measles and the importance of vaccination. More than 7,000 people have received the vaccine as a result, according to BJL.
In December, the Health Department announced that students who had not received the required number of doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, would not be allowed to attend school.
Twenty-one of the most recent cases are connected to one Williamsburg yeshiva that allowed an unvaccinated student to attend school in mid-January against the order of the Health Department. The student had measles but was not yet showing symptoms.
The Health Department expanded vaccination recommendations for providers in the Orthodox Jewish community last week, to include an early, extra dose of the MMR vaccine for children between the ages of 6 months to 11 months in Williamsburg and Borough Park.
“Measles is a serious, highly contagious and potentially deadly infection. Complications and fatalities are rare but do happen,” Dr. Oxiris Barbot, New York’s Health Commissioner was quoted as saying in BJL. "I urge parents not to take any risks that may jeopardize their children or other children in their community."
"We are very concerned about the continued upward tick of measles in our area despite concentrated and valiant efforts by DOH. We are also doing everything in our power to stop the disease from spreading further in our community and especially in our yeshivas," Rabbi Avi Greenstein, CEO of the Borough Park Jewish Community Council told BJL. "It is imperative that every member of our community protect themselves and their families by getting vaccinated. It is equally imperative to understand that prevention is key."
A measles outbreak has likewise been occurring in Israel. According to the Israeli Ministry of Health, more than 3,400 people were infected with measles between March 2018 and January 2019. Many of the infections were caused during travel abroad.
Reports from the ministry warning about cases of measles infection on buses and at events have become exceedingly frequent in the last year.
Just today, the ministry announced that passengers on 3 buses in Ashdod may have been exposed to measles. Passengers who were born after 1956 and have not received two doses of the measles vaccine are requested to contact the nearest health office as soon as possible to determine whether they need to be vaccinated.