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DHS Provides Update on Measles Cases in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), the Monroe County Health Department, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have confirmed 22 cases of measles in Wisconsin. Cases have occurred among people currently living at Fort McCoy in Monroe County with recent history of travel from Afghanistan as part of the United States government’s emergency evacuation efforts. There are currently zero known, active measles cases at Fort McCoy. The risk of measles transmission in the surrounding communities is considered to be low at this time.

“From the very beginning, we have welcomed Afghan allies to Wisconsin. We will continue to support federal and local partners in their ongoing efforts to contain the spread of measles and ensure those who have been evacuated from their home communities are receiving the medical care they need in order to be healthy and well-protected,” said Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake. “The hardships Afghan evacuees have endured in the past year are truly unimaginable, and I ask that we all practice compassion, and respect people’s privacy and culture as the resettlement process continues.”

Most Wisconsinites are vaccinated against measles as children, which provides lifetime immunity. However, people who have never been vaccinated and are exposed to a person with measles can spread the virus to others in the community, leading to outbreaks. Staff or visitors who are unvaccinated and who have been to Fort McCoy between September and October may be at increased risk for measles. Wisconsinites can check their vaccination status in the Wisconsin Immunization Registry (WIR).

“Vaccination is essential to stopping the spread of measles,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Chief Medical Officer for the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases. “We ask all Wisconsinites to check their measles vaccination status and talk to your health care provider about getting yourself or your child vaccinated if it’s still needed.”

People diagnosed with measles at Fort McCoy have ranged in age from 4 months to 26 years old, and 14 (64%) have required treatment at area hospitals.

In order to prevent further spread at Fort McCoy and continue to protect surrounding communities, DHS and the Monroe County Health Department are working to support federal agencies that led the vaccination efforts against measles and other communicable diseases to all Afghan evacuees in mid-September. More than 11,000 Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine doses have been administered at Fort McCoy.

To keep everyone informed, DHS will be updating the measles cases every Thursday at 2 p.m. on the DHS Outbreaks webpage.

Measles is a highly contagious disease that can be spread from person to person through the air and can remain airborne in indoor spaces for two hours after a sick person leaves. People are infectious four days before rash onset through four days after rash onset.

Symptoms of measles include:

  • Runny nose
  • High fever (may be greater than 104°F)
  • Tiredness
  • Cough
  • Red, watery eyes, or conjunctivitis (“pink eye”)
  • A red rash with raised bumps that starts at the hairline and moves to the arms and legs three to five days after symptoms begin

Through widespread vaccination, measles was officially eliminated from the United States in 2000. However, measles outbreaks still occur in areas of the United States where people are unvaccinated, and in under-vaccinated countries that do not have the ability to widely distribute vaccine and medical resources to all of their residents.

The best way to prevent getting measles is to get the measles vaccine as a child. Two doses of the measles vaccine, beginning with a first dose at 12 to 15 months of age, and the second dose around age four, are 97% effective at preventing the disease. Adults who were born in or after 1957 and have never had the vaccine, should get at least one dose. College students, international travelers, and health care workers should get two doses at least 28 days apart. Immunizations are available at a doctor’s office, your local health department, and some local pharmacies. Local health departments can provide the measles vaccine to uninsured children and adults, based on vaccine ability and capacity.

Wisconsinites can check the Wisconsin Immunization Registry (WIR) to find out if they need the vaccine. The Wisconsin Vaccines for Children Program (VFC) covers the cost of vaccines for eligible children.