Queens could be the next measles hot zone and one hospital is already practicing protocols learned during the Ebola crisis.
LIJ Forest Hills has begun screening before they are allowed to enter the building after a new study showed that Queens county is ranked fourth in the country for a likely outbreak of the measles virus.
“Here in Queens, we meet all four criteria,” Dr. Teresa Amato, chair of emergency medicine at LIJ Forest Hills said. “We have a dense population, and two airports where people are coming in from high incident areas. We’re also an area with a high number of unvaccinated people and we’re a hot spot next to a hot spot in Brooklyn.”
The authors of The Lancet Infectious Diseases warned that hot spots “could serve as a fulcrum of continuous importation of the measles virus into the USA.” This year, the United States has seen the highest number of confirmed cases since measles was declared eliminated in the country in 2000.
“If you had told me when I got into the health care business that we would be facing a measles outbreak in 2019, I would have been shocked,” Amato said. “All of Northwell Health is screening people before entering. We ask if they have a cough, fever or rash. If they say yes, we ask if they have been vaccinated and have they been exposed. If they have, they are put into isolation because it is so highly contagious. The virus can live in the air for up to 2 hours.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the measles virus is so contagious that it one person has it, up to 90 percent of the people around him or her will become infected if they are not protected.
Last week, the city’s Department of Health closed down The Yeshiva of Central Queens in Kew Gardens Hills for non-compliance of the citywide order aimed at curbing the ongoing measles outbreak. The school’s attorney Jonathan Farrell said in a statement that the “audit of the yeshiva was triggered by a single individual, who is an outside vendor of the yeshiva who was present on yeshiva’s premises after apparently being exposed to the measles virus.”
The Yeshiva of Central Queens was cleared to reopen Monday, according to the Health Department.
“In order to prevent outbreaks in new areas of the city we need parents to get their children vaccinated and schools to exclude children who are not up to date with the measles vaccine,” Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said. “We continue to urge unvaccinated New Yorkers to get vaccinated against measles as soon as possible.”
Measles starts with a high fever and soon after, it causes a cough, runny nose and red eyes then a rash of tiny spots breaks out, according to the CDC. It starts in the head and spreads to the rest of the body and it could lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and death.
“If you’re exposed and unvaccinated you’re likely to get it,” Amato said. “A generation ago there were enough people vaccinated that the virus wouldn’t spread. Now we’ve lost that kind of immunity, and it’s a little dangerous.”
She said there has been a rise in recent years of people who aren’t vaccinated because of non-medical reasons in the United States.
“There was a widely circulated study that linked vaccinations to autism that has been debunked several times,” Amato said. “Therefore we’re seeing diseases return after we thought they were gone, like measles. Viruses are very smart. They want to live.”