Measles outbreak hits Newark Liberty International Airport

A person with measles was reportedly in Newark Liberty International Airport on May 8, potentially exposing thousands of travelers to the disease, New Jersey health officials revealed Friday. 

What’s more, neighboring New York now has 535 cases of measles, an increase of 12 patients in less than a week, according to the newest city data, also released Friday. 

Although measles outbreaks are now nationwide – striking 25 states – New York’s Orthodox Jewish communities have borne the brunt of the disease in the US outbreak that has sickened nearly 900 people. 

In an effort to stem the outbreak, the city has ordered every adult and child in five Brooklyn zip codes to get vaccinated or face fines of up to $1,000. 

So far, 122 summons have been issued to unvaccinated New Yorkers who have refused to get shots for themselves or their children. 

Yet, the highly contagious, once eliminated virus continues to spread, most recently in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where the city’s health department is now trying to reach Spanish- and Chinese-speaking communities.   

New Jersey health officials have confirmed that a traveler who was at Newark Liberty International Airport (pictured, file) on May 8 had measles, as cases reach 535 in New York City

‘Williamsburg remains the epicenter of this outbreak, though we have seen some cases in people outside of the Orthodox Jewish community,’ said New York City Health Commissioner Dr Oxiris Barbot. 

Although four of the 12 new New York cases were reported in Sunset Park, Dr Bardot is relatively unconcerned about that neighborhood for the time being. 

‘Given the high vaccination rates in Sunset Park, we do not foresee sustained transmission in this neighborhood,’ she said. 

As for the Newark Airport case, there’s no telling how many of the passengers and employees might have been unvaccinated – including children too young to get shots – and how many might have come into contact with the infected person. 

In 2017, 43.3 million passengers flew in and out of Newark, which serves as one of the three major hubs for New York City and is the 11th busiest airport in the US. 

Health officials have pushed hard for public awareness and vaccination campaigns which may have helped to protect New Yorkers, but such efforts aren’t really applicable to the people who were in Terminal B of Newark on May 8 between 2pm and 6pm. 

‘We urge everyone to check to make sure they and their family members are up-to-date on measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine and all other age-appropriate immunizations,’ said New Jersey state epidemiologist Dr Christina Tan. 

In New York, measles has spread like wildfire in Orthodox Jewish communities where some believe that a vaccine constitutes a foreign body, which the Torah forbids Jews from allowing to enter their own bodies. 

But last month Mayor Bill DiBlasio declared a state of emergency and mandated that everyone living in areas with outbreaks get vaccinated or face fines – regardless of their religious beliefs. 

Several parents filed a lawsuit claiming that the mandate violated their constitutional rights to freedom of religion, but a Brooklyn judge upheld the vaccine order. 

Since October 1, the health department counts over 25,000 doses of the measles mumps and rubella vaccine administered in the effected neighborhoods. 

‘Measles is extremely contagious, and I strongly urge unvaccinated New Yorkers to immediately get the vaccine, unless there is a medical condition that prevents them from doing so,’ said Dr Barbot in a Friday statement.  

Most measles outbreaks began with international travelers, but all of those visitors to the US were old enough to have been vaccinated. 

These travelers have primarily come from Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines.  

One such traveler also spread the virus to Detroit, Michigan.  

CDC officials also underscored the role of misinformation in the current outbreaks. 

Social media and on-the-ground community agents have been disseminating misconceptions among many communities about the safety and efficacy of the MMR vaccine. 

Vulnerable, religious and insular communities are particularly ‘targeted’ by disinformation campaigns, said CDC vaccine expert Dr Nancy Messonier, though officials said they could not determine why these groups are ‘targets.’  

Measles outbreaks have been reported in 26 states, with the highest proportion occurring in New York (map not yet updated to reflect Oklahoma and Maine cases)

Measles outbreaks have been reported in 26 states, with the highest proportion occurring in New York (map not yet updated to reflect Oklahoma and Maine cases) 

The Washington state outbreak has now been declared over, after sickening 72 people there in total.  

Dr Messonier confirmed that not all of the people who have been diagnosed with measles are unvaccinated. 

She explained that in places where there are ‘extreme disease pressures, we know that there can be vaccine failures.’ 

Anyone who received both doses of the MMR vaccine after 1967 should be protected against measles. 

Those who were born before 1957 are believed to been exposed to the disease already.   

Health officials say that so far they haven’t seen signs that immunity is waning, but urge everyone to speak to their health care providers and check their shot records. 

Anyone over 30 may not still have the antibodies they need to fight the infection circulating. 

The year is only a third over, and already there have been more measles cases in 2019 than the US has seen in 25 years, though weekly diagnoses slowed this week

The year is only a third over, and already there have been more measles cases in 2019 than the US has seen in 25 years, though weekly diagnoses slowed this week 

However, Dr Esper notes that tests of the MMR vaccine found that it is effective against the strain currently sweeping the US.  

Earlier this month, President Trump joined the chorus, urging parents to vaccinate their children in a shift from his tweets from several years ago warning over links between the MMR vaccine and autism.  

When asked if he thought President Trump should publicly decry his previous tweets and sentiments, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar defended Trump. 

‘Some years ago, there was a debate about that issue,’ Azar said. 

‘We can definitely reassure every parent there is no link between vaccines and autism,’ he said, adding that the president’s statement last week marked a ‘strong’ stance on vaccination and the measles outbreaks.  

‘The president has been very clear that people should get their shots…and make sure they are up-to-date,’ said Azar. 

Dr Esper says that changing tunes as President Trump has done is ‘actually exactly what we’d like to see. 

‘Someone that was against the vaccine in 2014 now says go get your vaccine and that is what we’d like to see.’ 

Although one state outbreak has been declared over, health officials said they do expect more cases to be reported in the days to come.    

‘I would guess that we’re still going to see more cases, but the rate at which it goes up will depend on how well-contained the current outbreaks are,’ says Dr Esper.