2 measles cases in Minnesota children, health officials search for source

Two cases of measles in Minnesota may not sound like much to worry about, but there's a big question mark in this investigation: What is the source? 

Without knowing that, it's hard to know how many more cases could develop. While two children are being treated, public health workers are on the phone notifying anyone who may have been exposed to the highly contagious disease.

“Then it's a lot more boots on the ground kind of work to identify who might have been exposed, but that's the work of public health,” said Kris Ehresmann of the Infectious Disease division of the Minnesota Department of Health.

There is a connection between the two infected children, but neither child has traveled outside the country. This means that investigators don't know the source, so the search is on, with workers trying to prevent any kind of mass outbreak.

“While many people develop measles and it's moderate to severe, there are individuals who are hospitalized who can develop severe pneumonia,” said Ehresmann. “We do see deaths from measles.”

In Minnesota, 94 percent of kindergartners have had the MMR vaccine, but it's those who have not had it that are at the greatest risk. The classic symptom is a rash, but the very first symptoms are actually cough, runny nose and watery eyes - symptoms easily mistaken for a cold or allergy. You are infectious for four days with these seemingly minor symptoms.

Between that and not knowing the source of these latest two cases, there is cause for concern.

“So I think it's important for people to realize that we have two cases now, we do expect that we will likely see more cases of measles, and that will not be surprising to us,” Ehresmann said.

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. back in 2000, which means the cases that we do have are brought in from other countries. Right now, Europe is having a major measles outbreak, so traveling there unvaccinated could be risky.

The last major outbreak here in Minnesota was in 1990 -- with over 450 cases and three deaths.