Health officials reported on Friday three new cases of measles in Cobb County, where several people have been quarantined since a high school student was diagnosed with the virus earlier this month.
The three confirmed cases involve members of the same family and include at least one adult. Authorities determined that at least two of the three were not vaccinated.
The family may have spread measles to others between October 30 and November. 13, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health, which notifies individuals who may have been exposed to the virus and may be at greater risk of developing measles.
Authorities did not establish a direct connection to Mabry Middle School, where a student was recently diagnosed with measles. But an investigation into any possible link is under way and is considered highly probable, according to the state health agency.
"These additional cases of measles should be highly worrying for those not vaccinated with MMR," Health Department Commissioner Kathleen E. Toomey said of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. "Measles is a serious disease that can lead to dangerous complications, even death."
Toomey, a doctor, said the measles vaccine is safe. And, she said, it is highly recommended to protect the vaccinated person and vulnerable populations, such as babies, who are too young to be vaccinated.
Walter Orenstein, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center and professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, said the three new cases are "very worrying" as it is unclear how the virus was introduced and is spreading here. There may be substantially more cases, he said.
In the United States, most cases of measles are the result of international travel. The disease is brought here by people who are infected in other countries. So these travelers spread the disease to people who have not been vaccinated.
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The Georgia Department of Health is not aware of recent international travel for any of those diagnosed here.
All those measles patients live relatively close to each other. Student Mabry attended school until November 1 before being diagnosed.
Earlier this week, the health department announced that some students and at least one adult are in quarantine at home. Two people familiar with the situation put the number at 17. People at home cannot return until a 21-day period ends, according to the state health agency.
Quarantine covers the time when symptoms of the disease would appear and an infected person would be contagious. That would be until November 22nd. But with schools closed the following week for Thanksgiving, people exposed to the virus would not return until December 2.
So far this year, there have been 11 confirmed cases of measles in Georgia – more cases than in the previous decade combined.
State health authorities are asking anyone with measles symptoms to call a doctor before going to a doctor's office or hospital.
The measles virus spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Nose or mouth drops stay in the air or land on surfaces where germs can live for two hours. Measles is so contagious that if a person has it, up to 90% of those around them will also be infected if not vaccinated.
Stacy Smith, who was returning home with her daughter from Rocky Mount Elementary, about 1 mile from Mabry Middle, said measles cases are worrying because the virus is “in the neighborhood” now – not just in schools.
His third grade was vaccinated and Smith said he and his wife were vaccinated seven or eight years ago.
"Everyone will make their own choice about whether or not to vaccinate their children," he said. "You expect people who know they are being exposed to take proper precautions."
Although his family is protected, news of more infected people nearby made him think of the Spanish exchange student he and his wife are hosting. He said he needs to find out if she has been vaccinated.
"I'll wash my hands and clean the counters," he added.
Outside Mabry Middle, Tara Amos was waiting in the car line.
She thinks Cobb schools have done a good job communicating with parents about the infected student there, "clearly and in a non-alarming way."
Her seventh grade was anxious at first until Amos explained that her vaccination should keep her safe.
"I felt that in our case we had nothing to worry about," Amos said.
In Georgia, vaccines are compulsory for public school attendance, but there are two exemptions, one for medical reasons and one for religious reasons.
"Finally, I think it's their choice and I don't think it's my place to guess it," Amos said.
An estimated 93.6% of young children in Georgia received the recommended measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations, slightly below the national average of 94.7%, according to research published in an October issue of the US Centers. for Disease Control, Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report. Also in Georgia, 2.5% of kindergarten students had an exemption from at least one vaccine, which is the same overall percentage for the US.
The CDC has recorded 1,261 measles cases in 31 states in the US since January 1, the largest since 1992.
Measles can be dangerous, especially for babies and young children, and pregnant women, the agency said.
About 1 in 5 unvaccinated people in the US who take measles are hospitalized, according to the CDC. And up to 1 in 20 children with measles suffer from pneumonia, the most common cause of measles death in young children.
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