Orange County at high risk of measles outbreak

Researchers cite vaccine rates, number of international travelers

By Cathleigh Winningham - Producer, Amanda Castro - Reporter/Anchor

ORLANDO, Fla. - A new study suggests four Florida counties, including Orange County, are at high risk for a measles outbreak.  

According to researchers at the University of Texas, Orange County placed No.14 in the most at-risk areas.  

Broward, Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties are also considered high-risk areas.  

Researchers came up with the list after looking at such things as vaccine rates and the number of international travelers.  

[MORE: Should adults get another measles vaccine? | Study ranks places at highest risk]

The top-ranked area in the study was Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago. An outbreak is when there are three or more cases of the disease in a specific area.

Dr. Alix Casler, the chief of pediatrics for Orlando Health Physician Associates, said she is getting a lot of calls from parents concerned about measles spreading across the country. So far this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting 764 cases of the disease, including two cases in Florida. 

Casler said there are several reasons as to why Orange County could be at high risk for a potential outbreak.

"We have a very large population, dense population, living close together [and] a large enough unvaccinated community to be of concern because measles is highly contagious," Casler said. 

Casler said another reason why Orange County is considered one of the most at-risk spots is because it is a tourist destination. Visit Orlando reported 75 million people visited last year. 

"We have a lot of travel, obviously we're a vacation destination," Casler said. "We have one of the (sic) largest airports, so we have a lot of travel from areas around the world where there is significant measles." 

Measles is a highly contagious virus that begins with fever, dry cough and runny nose, followed by a rash that spreads over the body. 

Doctors say the best way to prevent the measles is to get vaccinated. Casler said patients need to get two doses of the vaccine.

Typical immunization starts when a child is 1 year old, but could be administered as early as 6 months old. A second dose of the vaccine is given between ages 4 and 6.

"Measles is almost entirely preventable. Two doses gives us 97 percent protection," Casler said. 

A spokesperson for the Orange County Health Department told News 6 measles is a public health concern. 

The Florida Department of Health tracks immunization records through an online database. If you're not sure if you received both doses of the MMR vaccine and don't have access to your immunization records, Casler suggests talking to your doctor, who may suggest getting another MMR vaccine.

"Honestly, getting revaccinated is very safe and not a big deal, so I would have that conversation with your physician," she said. "If everyone is vaccinated, it will take our measles rates down to essentially zero cases, like we did prior to the influx of measles cases and the uptick in unvaccinated people."

[WATCH PODCAST VIDEO BELOW:  Florida's Fourth Estate delves into measles outbreak]

 

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