Measles reaches Central Florida as Polk County resident contracts virus – Orlando Sentinel


Measles has arrived in Central Florida, with the disease infecting a Polk County resident age 20-24, the first Florida adult infected with the highly contagious disease this year.

It’s unclear exactly when and how that person, whose gender wasn’t revealed, contracted the virus. The case was reported to the Florida Department of Health on Saturday, according to data from Merlin, Florida’s web-based reportable disease surveillance system.

The Florida Department of Health referenced a “travel-related case in Central Florida” in a Friday advisory to health care providers but provided no other details.

This infection comes after weeks of measles spreading in Broward County, largely linked to an outbreak at the Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston in South Florida.

As of Sunday, eight Broward cases had been confirmed, all in younger children and teens.

In contrast, Florida had only two measles cases all of last year, one in a Miami-Dade toddler and another in a Seminole County toddler, both linked to international travel.

Florida Department of Health officials did not immediately respond to questions from the Orlando Sentinel about the Polk County case, nor the vaccination status of any of the people infected.

Polk County had a 95.8% vaccination rate among kindergarteners in 2022, above the 95% threshold thought to give herd immunity from community spread.

Dr. Kenneth Alexander, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Nemours Children’s Health in Orlando, said vaccinated people shouldn’t worry about the state’s recent cases because two doses of the measles vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing the disease.

But the cases this year should serve as a warning for Central Florida parents who have chosen not to vaccinate their kids, he said.

“If your kid is vaccinated, good for you, sleep well. If your kids aren’t vaccinated, think hard about that,” Alexander said. “I don’t think you’re going to see measles spread around Florida, widespread, the way COVID does, because most people … are pretty well-vaccinated.”

About 1 in 5 unvaccinated people who get measles are hospitalized, as many as 1 in 20 kids who get measles will develop pneumonia. About 1 in 1,000 will develop brain swelling that can cause permanent injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 1 in every 1,000 kids will die.

The disease is incredibly infectious, “like fire and gas,” Alexander said. Germs can linger in the air hours after an infectious person leaves the room.

To prevent measles, the CDC recommends children get two doses of the vaccine, with a first dose at ages 12 through 15 months, and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age.

Florida falls short of the 95% vaccination goal. Statewide, in 2022 – the most recent data publicly available – 91.7% of Florida kindergarteners had gotten the immunizations required to attend school, including the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. It was 93% the year prior.

Editorial: Facing a measles outbreak, Ladapo sends the wrong message


Orange County has seen its immunization rate fall almost every year since 2015. The most recent data available, also from 2022, indicates 88.2% of kindergarteners had gotten all their required shots, about 12,000 of the more than 13,600 kids enrolled. In 2021, the vaccination rate was 89.6%.

The Florida Department of Health did not respond to requests for updated data for the 2023-24 school year.

If a Central Florida outbreak does occur, Alexander cautioned, it will likely be in an especially susceptible pocket of the region where large numbers of unvaccinated people congregate together – for example, a church or private school.

Unvaccinated people have a 90% chance of becoming infected if exposed.

“An unimmunized child in a school with a low immunization rate – maybe a private school or something like that – that’s the kind of situation where the virus gets into the school and it spreads like wildfire,” Alexander said.

Manatee Bay didn’t necessarily fall into the category of low vaccination rates, and still, the spread has been extensive. The Broward County school district said Friday that only 33 of Manatee Bay’s 1,067 students don’t have at least one shot of the two-dose measles vaccine. Of these, at least eight have contracted the virus.

Nemours Children’s Health met Monday morning to ensure they were prepared and had adequate protective gear if a Central Florida child does contract measles, Alexander added.

If a school does experience a measles outbreak, Alexander urged parents to keep their unvaccinated children home for 21 days, in line with advice from public health leaders and every major health organization.

But after the Broward County outbreak, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo sent out a letter that left the decision up to parents whether to let their kids go back to school.

“Due to the high immunity rate in the community, as well as the burden on families and educational cost of healthy children missing school, (the state health department) is deferring to parents or guardians to make decisions about school attendance,” Ladapo wrote.

Alexander argued that public health officials, not parents, are best equipped to make that call.

“This [advice] is contrary to 50 years of really good public health policy,” Alexander said. “We’re leaving up to parents a decision that parents don’t have the toolset to make.”

Scott Rivkees, a former Florida surgeon general and now a Brown University professor, criticized Ladapo’s memo in an interview with KFF News.

“This is not a parental rights issue … It’s about protecting fellow classmates, teachers, and members of the community against measles, which is a very serious and very transmissible illness,” he said.

4 Florida counties, including Orange, could be at high risk of measles outbreak, analysis shows

Florida’s cases coincide with a rise in measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases around the nation and world.

Measles, declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, totaled at least 35 cases in 15 states in 2024, most related to international travel, according to CDC data released Friday. There were 58 measles cases in 2023 and 121 in 2022.

The spread of vaccine-preventable diseases has been linked to rampant misinformation about vaccines, which has undone decades of progress toward eradicating dangerous diseases. Ladapo has been a constant critic of the COVID-19 vaccine, drawing criticism from many public health experts.

Florida has long been flagged as a particularly vulnerable area. In 2019, four Florida counties landed on a list of U.S. counties most at risk of a measles outbreak, done by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Johns Hopkins University. The study factored in religious vaccine exemptions and international travel.

Miami-Dade County ranked third, followed by Broward at 7, Orange at 14 and Hillsborough at 17.; @CECatherman Twitter


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