WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Eight children in Westchester County have contracted measles, County Executive George Latimer announced Wednesday.
The children, who are between the ages of six months and 14 years old, hail from Bedford and Mount Kisco. None of them attend public schools, Latimer said.
Latimer said the children may have been exposed to the virus while attending family events in Rockland County and Brooklyn. Six of the children are siblings.
“The Westchester County Department of Health is working with the families and health care providers to identify the locations where the children may have exposed others,” Latimer said.
Two of the children were hospitalized but have since been released, said Dr. Sherlita Amler, Westchester County health commissioner.
Other than encouraging residents to vaccinate themselves or their children, Westchester County is not taking any action at this time, Latimer said.
“I’m concerned but I’m not at a point of crisis mobilization,” Latimer said. “When [eight] cases become significantly more than that, then we will use the authority of government. We will use it prudently, we will use it with restraint, but we will use it to protect the public health of Westchester people. We are not at that point today.”
The Westchester County Health Department provides the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine to residents free of charge at its clinics in Yonkers and White Plains (more information is available on the county's website).
“I really can’t stress enough that vaccination is the key to stopping any measles outbreak,” Amler said. “When people choose not to be vaccinated, measles returns, and outbreaks occur.”
If people are unsure of their vaccination history, Amler said, they should contact their health department or the last school they attended.
“When in doubt, my advice to the public is: Get a vaccine,” Amler said. “Get the MMR. It’s not harmful to receive additional doses of this vaccine. And it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Symptoms of measles appear about 10 to 12 days after exposure, Amler said. It comes with a fever between 103 and 105 degrees, cough, runny nose, reddening of eyes or conjunctivitis, and a rash in the form of small raised red dots. The rash, which can last five to six days, usually begins on the hairline and moves down.
Because measles is an airborne virus, Amler said, residents who think they have contracted it should not make unannounced appearances at their health care provider. She said people should call ahead and make arrangements.
“It lasts in the air for hours after that person leaves the room,” Amler said. “So, we don’t want people going into medical facilities and potentially exposing others.”
Latimer said it would be under Amler’s authority to declare any county-wide measures to contain the spread of the virus.
“It is not the authority of the general government, county executive or legislators to make those declarations, and I think that is as it should be,” Latimer said. “This is a matter where science triumphs over political science. This is a matter of science and medicine and what is the right thing to do to protect the public health. We all have our individual rights guaranteed to us under the Constitution. Those personal rights, however, at some point in time cross over and impact the rights of others. When that happens, then the public health always has to be put at the highest premium.”
Despite people’s religious or philosophical objections to vaccinations, Latimer said, the science is clear.
“Science tells us today that the vaccine does not cause autism, it does not cause learning disability. It protects your child,” Latimer said. “There are people who believe otherwise, but we’re working off of what the scientific community and the medical community tells us. And we believe that that is an accurate and true statement.”
Latimer said people who have been vaccinated need not worry about contracting the virus.
“I don’t think there should be any basis for mass panic if you know that your child is immunized,” Latimer said.
However, Amler said, there are “vulnerable populations,” such as children under 1, who may be unvaccinated. Children older than 6 months but younger than 1 year old may be able to receive a vaccination, but Amler recommends families in that situation speak with their physicians.
In neighboring Rockland County, there are 173 confirmed cases of measles.