A case of measles was confirmed last week at the Mountain Laurel Waldorf School in New Paltz that involved the New York State and local Health Departments and the Confectious Disease Control (CDC), Ulster County Health Commissioner Dr. Carol Smith said.
Smith said the infected child became exposed to the measles virus in Europe and became ill upon returning to the United States because the child never received the MMR (measles) vaccination.
“Once we got the call from a concerned parent, the communicable disease nurses went to the child’s home, spoke to the parents, took a nasal swab and the nasal specimen was sent up to the Wadsworth State Lab in Albany,” she said. “The PCR test was able to confirm that the specimen did contain the measles virus.”
Ulster County issued a health alert to emergency rooms and doctors’ offices in the area after the sample tested positive for the virus, Smith said. The U.S. has not seen measles endemic for 12 years so many doctors do not know what a live case of the virus looks like, she said.
Measles is a highly communicable virus which is spread through coughing and sneezing, Smith said.
“[Measles] tends to be a tough customer,” she said. “It can survive in a room on surfaces up to two hours after a person leaves the room.”
Symptoms include a fever of 103 degrees or higher, cough, conjunctivitis or “pinkeye,” runny nose and a maculopapular rash (tiny to large flat, red spots that normally start by the hairline, moving to the face and then the lower extremities), Smith said. Symptoms of the illness can take anywhere up to 21 days to appear because the virus has an incubation period of more than two weeks, she said.
Smith said 90 percent of people who are not vaccinated contract the measles virus — –which is most contagious four days before symptoms arise — and the 30 percent who develop life threatening symptoms such as pneumonia or severe dehydration face the risk of death.
“It’s wonderful if you recover from it, most do get better,” she said. “Certainly, there are risks of severe consequences of getting the disease.”
Margaret Veve, SUNY New Paltz student teaching coordinator said New Paltz students were not placed at the Mountain Laurel Waldorf School this semester.
“This is an important issue,” Veve said. “Thankfully, the system seemed to work well in the past and we are lucky to have the health center. [They] are really diligent.”
Before students can be placed in schools, they must be cleared by the health center the semester before student teaching, Veve said. Their health files are checked and if a vaccine is needed, students must have that taken care of right away.
“Some can get waivers for personal and religious reasons, but this has to be filed with the health center,” Veve said.
Smith said, the last case of measles recorded in Ulster County was in 2004 and currently 96 percent of Ulster County residents have had at least one out of two doses of the MMR vaccine, which is higher than the state average of 91.6 percent.
There are still “pockets” of communities who feel vaccines are dangerous and although they reduce the risk of fatalities, skeptical people refrain from them, Smith said.
“Some folks feel it’s dangerous and associated with cases of Autism,” Smith said. “There really is no evidence of that and we believe in public health it is unfounded.”
The Mountain Laurel Waldorf School did not respond in time for print, but Smith said 50 percent of the students there are not vaccinated. Students who have not been vaccinated and have come into contact with the infected child are excused from school for 21 days, she said.
“The Department of Health does still ask anyone with symptoms to certainly contact us and health care providers, and we recommend people get vaccinated,” Smith said.