Measles in the USA: Patient Zero – How a Man Brought Virus to Michigan


Steve McGraw drove through Detroit every hour, alerting everyone in the community he had created. Together, they searched for a blue sedan. By car, a measles patient who came from New York to Detroit in early March in Michigan and was now spreading the infectious disease involuntarily was traveling by car.

When she finally found him, he could not understand the excitement. You must be wrong, the man argued. He could not have measles because he had already had the disease and was immune to it. But McGraw, an emergency medical worker in Oakland County, was sure: "It's just an illness and you have it," he told the man. "He was very emotional," says McGraw, describing the situation with the Washington Post. "I could see from his expression that he was devastated and he calculated in his mind how many people he was in contact with."

Wrong diagnosis

On March 13, a blood test confirmed that the man was actually suffering from measles. Unknowingly, he brought the virus to Michigan. Doctors speak of such a "zero patient" case.

The authorities did not disclose the man's name to protect his personal rights. Of course he traveled from New York to Detroit in March. He was probably infected in the Brooklyn neighborhood of New York. An analysis of the pathogen showed that they were the same virus strain in both cities. In New York, measles is already violent, parts of the state of emergency of Brooklyn has been declared and imposed the duty to vaccinate.

When the man was on his way to Detroit, he had a fever and a cough. However, a doctor falsely diagnosed bronchitis. He had never seen measles in a patient. Even when the man on the way called and said he had a rash now, the doctor did not make the correct diagnosis but considered the rash an allergic reaction.

Only when he hung up and was intrigued by the symptoms did he suspect the man was suffering from measles. He informed the responsible health department and gave the man's cell phone number. However, this apparently had problems with your phone and was not reachable. Thus, emergency medical service and McGraw came into play, which immediately went in search of patient zero.

highly contagious

The officials of the responsible health authorities rebuilt, with which patient zero had contact. They reached about 30 places where he was within a week. At least 39 people were infected. Measles is already contagious three to five days before the eruption. Sick then spread the virus for about four days.

Two hours after an infected patient has left a particular site, measles viruses are detectable in the air. If an infected person comes in contact with a person who is not protected by a previous vaccine or illness, he becomes ill with a 95% probability. This makes measles pathogens one of the most contagious pathogens in the world.

When it is clear that measles has hit Michigan, the authorities respond immediately. A messaging system reported 1,200 people in the community, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews. In a message, the rabbis called their parishioners to be completely vaccinated. Children should receive the first vaccine at eleven to 14 months and the second at 15 to 23 months. Only then is there enough protection.

By early April, more than 2,100 doses of vaccine had been distributed in the Detroit area. According to current knowledge, the outbreak of measles could be contained, at least in Michigan.

Number of four-fold measles cases

The US case shows how quickly measles can spread and how ignorance can put health at risk. Not all who are not adequately immunized against measles reject the vaccines themselves. Many simply do not know that two injections are needed. Many of the infected people in Michigan were adults who were convinced that they already had measles or that they were sufficiently vaccinated against it.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, only 67% of people worldwide received two vaccines. To eradicate measles, 95% would have to be vaccinated twice against the virus. In fact, the world community wanted to achieve this goal by 2015. Recently, however, there has been an increase in measles outbreaks worldwide. According to the WHO, this year's figures have quadrupled compared to the same period last year.

A measles infection immensely weakens the immune system, so more infections are common. One dreaded episode is encephalitis, measles encephalitis, which can result in death or permanent damage. As a late consequence of a measles infection, so-called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) can develop, after years, an inflammation of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. This leads to loss of brain functions and ultimately death.


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