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International Business Times
International Business Times

Florida's Health Officials Draw Fire As Measles Outbreak Continues To Spread

A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is pictured at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019. Picture taken March 20, 2019. (Credit: Reuters / LINDSEY WASSON)

Florida's health officials are drawing criticism for the handling of the measles outbreak, as a seventh case of the virus has been confirmed.

According to NBC news, a child under age 5 is the youngest so far to be infected in the outbreak. This comes after multiple children from Broward County were confirmed to be sick with the disease this month.

With the rising cases, Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo is drawing criticism for his statement. Ladapo, known for his outspoken skepticism toward the COVID-19 vaccine, sent a letter this week to parents at Manatee Bay Elementary School near Fort Lauderdale.

Although the letter notes that when a school has a measles outbreak, it is "normally recommended" that unvaccinated students who haven't previously had the disease be kept home for three weeks, it mentioned that the state won't turn that recommendation into a mandate, at least for now. The state health department is "deferring to parents or guardians to make decisions about school attendance," Ladapo wrote.

His wording contradicts Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, which tell school officials that unvaccinated children "must be excluded" for three weeks. The failure to bar unvaccinated children has sparked criticism from doctors in Florida and around the country.

According to a Broward County vaccine study, Manatee Bay Elementary's vaccination rate is at 89.31%. The school currently has 1,067 students enrolled, ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade. So, that percentage of students not vaccinated are at risk for the highly contagious infection.

The cases have spiked from 58 for all of 2023 to 35 already this year, reported the AP. According to a 2023 report from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 92% of US children have gotten the MMR vaccine by age 2.

Meanwhile, Dr. Rana Alissa, Florida vice president of American Academy of Pediatrics, said that the state should follow the CDC guidelines "for the safety of our kids." Allowing unvaccinated children to attend during the outbreak not only endangers them, but others who might have compromised immune systems and could later catch it from them, she said.

However, the school district stated that any decisions about the mandatory exclusion of unvaccinated students rests solely with the health department.

Measles spreads when infected people exhale, cough and sneeze the viruses and can linger in the air and on surfaces for two hours, infecting numerous people. An infected person can be contagious for four days before symptoms appear, including the telltale rash, fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes.

While most people who catch measles recover without significant problems, an unvaccinated person who catches measles has about a 20% chance of being hospitalized, the CDC says.

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