A child in Fairfield County has contracted measles, public health officials announced Friday.
This is the fourth reported case of measles in Connecticut this year, and the first in a school-aged child, Department of Public Health officials said. This case is not connected to three previous cases in adults reported between January and April.
“We are monitoring and investigating this case very closely, including working with our local health departments and medical providers to follow up with any individuals that may have been exposed to measles,” Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell said in a statement.
Measles is a highly contagious virus that spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. That person can spread the virus from four days before the appearance of a rash to four days after, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
DPH officials said a public health investigation showed that the child likely contracted the measles in early October and was not infectious while at school, which was not identified by name.
With local health departments and health care providers, DPH is working to identify people who may have been exposed to the virus, which also causes fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes. Less commonly, illness can cause severe complications like pneumonia, brain swelling, and respiratory and neurologic issues, which can lead to death.
There may be secondary cases of measles among people who were in close contact with the child, especially those who have never been vaccinated for measles, DPH said. But state reports show that the majority of Connecticut residents have been immunized through vaccines, or after contracting measles in the past before vaccination became routine.
“If you have a fever and a rash, and you think you might have measles, you should avoid public settings and call your health care provider before going directly to a health care facility so steps can be taken to avoid possibly exposing others,” Coleman-Mitchell said.
The CDC recommends that all children get two doses of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, with the first dose at 12 to 15 months, and the second between four and six years old. Adults should at least have one dose, but groups like college students, health care workers, international travelers and people at risk for complications should have two doses.
Schools and communities need at least 95% of people immunized in order to achieve herd immunity, or a protection level that significantly reduces the risk of disease outbreak, according to the CDC.
But more than 130 schools in Connecticut have MMR vaccination rates among kindergartners below that level, up from about 102 schools the previous year, according to new school-level vaccination data released by DPH earlier this week.
Public health officials pointed to rising rates of religious exemptions for mandatory vaccines, especially at several individual schools where exemptions made up as much as 41% of the total student population.
In Fairfield County, where the child case of measles has taken place, 95.6% of kindergartners have been vaccinated against MMR, state data show. The county has 204 private and public schools that enrolled more than 11,000 kindergartners during the last school year.
Public health officials as well as Gov. Ned Lamont pledged to support efforts to eliminate the state’s religious exemption during the next legislative session in order to keep immunization rates high and decrease the risks for disease outbreak, especially for measles.
Federal officials declared in 2000 that measles had been eliminated in the United States. About 1,249 cases of measles have been confirmed this year in 31 states, according to the CDC, marking the greatest number of cases reported in the United States since 1992.