Unvaccinated child in Davison County is first measles case since 1997

PIERRE -- An unvaccinated child in Davison County is South Dakota's first case of measles since 1997, a state health official announced Tuesday. The child is under the age of 5. "South Dakota has good immunization coverage rates, but measles is o...


PIERRE -- An unvaccinated child in Davison County is South Dakota’s first case of measles since 1997, a state health official announced Tuesday.
The child is under the age of 5.
“South Dakota has good immunization coverage rates, but measles is on the rise nationally, which means unvaccinated individuals are at risk for exposure when they travel to areas with cases,” said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist for the Department of Health. “Up-to-date immunizations are the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the measles. We strongly encourage South Dakotans to check their immunization records and make sure they’re up to date.”
Officials at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell reported the case, according to a statement from Avera Medical Group’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tad Jacobs.
“Avera Queen of Peace reported this case to the state of South Dakota for follow-up, and has been working closely with them,” Jacobs said. “The hospital followed all protocols for detection and treatment. The public is encouraged to confirm their vaccination records to make sure they are current.”
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease transmitted from one person to another by direct contact or airborne by droplet spread, like coughing or sneezing, Kightlinger said. It is a serious illness that causes permanent brain damage in one in every 1,000 patients, and is fatal in three out of every 1,000 patients.
Kightlinger said the department is working to identify those who may have been exposed to the case.
Avera officials provided little information about the child, citing HIPAA privacy laws. The organization did not comment on when the child was brought to the hospital, whether the child is being treated, or to release the gender of the child.
In an interview with The Daily Republic, Kightlinger said the health department is working to determine how the child contracted measles and how many people have been exposed to the disease. He said the child is safe and being monitored at home at this point, and has not presented any complications from the disease, like pneumonia or dehydration.
He said the child was brought into Avera Queen of Peace Hospital over the weekend with measles symptoms, including high fever, rash, cough, redness of the eyes, runny nose and extreme fatigue. The hospital notified the state the child was diagnosed with measles, and testing was arranged immediately. On Monday, the state health lab in Pierre confirmed the child had contracted measles, Kightlinger said. He added the child was older than 12 months, so the child was able to be vaccinated, but had not been.
“This is a multi-state situation here,” Kightlinger said. “It reaches beyond the tri-state area.”
Since South Dakota has not seen a case of measles in about 18 years, Kightlinger said the child likely contracted the disease out of state, but that is still under scrutiny. He said at least a couple dozen people were exposed to the child during a family gathering in the Mitchell area.
“We’re in a watch and wait mode. Measles has a fairly long incubation period. From the time you’re exposed, symptoms occur between 14 and 21 days,” he said. “We’re determining whether others who were exposed were unvaccinated.”
To his knowledge, Kightlinger said the child was not in child care or enrolled in preschool.
Kightlinger said South Dakota had eliminated measles, both indigenous and imported strains, so many health care workers have not seen a measles case.
“My message to clinicians in the Davison County area, and in the state, is to be alert for measles,” he said. “Not having seen it for nearly 20 years, it’s not in the forefront of your minds. If you see people with a rash, fever or cough, think about measles and don’t hesitate to call the health department, and don’t hesitate to test.”
Nationally, measles cases have gone up and down. In 2011, more than 200 cases were reported. In 2012, the nation only saw 50 cases. But, as of the end of November, Kightlinger said the U.S. had 610 confirmed cases of measles, the most the country has seen in 20 years. These were reported in 20 states, including Minnesota and Nebraska.
“With this resurgence, every state is working hard to take care of them. We’re hoping to keep it to a bare minimum of cases,” Kightlinger said.

Being prepared

For the Mitchell School District, the measles case is concerning, even though it wasn’t a school-age student, said Superintendent Joe Graves.
It’s a growing concern, he said, as an increasing number of people across the country are choosing not to vaccinate their children.
Through school policy, Graves said if a student contracts measles, he or she cannot return to school for at least seven days. The absence could be longer, depending on the severity of the case, Graves said.
School policy also states students exposed to measles who are are up-to-date on their vaccinations may continue attending school.
Per state requirement and school policy, the school district double checks students’ vaccination records prior to the start of the year. As new students enter the district, staff also double check those children’s records.
Kightlinger urges all school districts to double check student vaccination records now, even if it was done prior to the school year. Anyone exposed to the child who contracted measles is being given the MMR vaccine, if they haven’t already been vaccinated.
Kightlinger stressed the importance of all South Dakotans double checking vaccination records and getting updated shots, if need be.
“If a child is behind on vaccinations, get them vaccinated,” he said. “If you’re hesitating, if your child isn’t going to kindergarten this year or isn’t in day care, please get them vaccinated today, this week.”
He added that cost or lack of health insurance should not deter people from getting the vaccination. He suggested asking clinic personnel about vaccinations and how to receive help to pay for the shots, or calling the county community health offices to get vaccinated.
Parents who need vaccine for their children can contact their usual health care provider or check the list of childhood vaccine providers on the Department of Health’s website, .
The Sanford Health clinic in Mitchell has about 60 doses of the MMR vaccine on hand and can easily obtain more if needed, said a Sanford spokesperson, and administers between 30 and 45 vaccinations per month depending on the time of year.
Avera spokesman Jay Gravholt said Avera clinics also have plenty doses of the vaccines available. He said Avera administers approximately 800 childhood vaccinations per month. He did not have a specific total for MMR vaccinations.
Barb Buhler, Department of Health public information officer, said as of Oct. 31, all clinics in Davison County reported 621 children in the 19- to 35-month age group were vaccinated for measles -- 583 of which received one MMR vaccination. That’s a 93.9 percent coverage rate.
Kightlinger said he is concerned about pockets of unvaccinated people in the state being vulnerable. But, he is confident the measles case in Davison County will be contained and will not result in an outbreak.

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