Measles: What To Know During Local Outbreak

Jul 23, 2014

A small line forms for free MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccines at the Sedgwick County Health Department office.
Credit Abigail Wilson


An unidentified person from Fort Worth, Texas has been diagnosed with measles after visiting Wichita earlier this month. There have been a total of 14 reported cases of measles in Kansas so far this year. 

Public Health officials in Fort Worth reported this afternoon that a resident who attended a tournament at South Lakes Softball Complex in Wichita has come down with measles.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment warned those that attended the July 4th event that they could have been exposed to the airborne disease. 

Eight teams from Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas were involved in the softball tournament, this is the first case linked to exposure at this event. 

KDHE announced on Tuesday that the total reported measles cases in Sedgwick County is now up to 11, and that they expect it to increase.

Below is a previous feature on the measles outbreak in Kansas

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has reported 11 cases of measles in Sedgwick County. Outbreaks have been reported in a number of states. According to the Center for Disease Control, the disease has seen very low infection rates since the early 2000’s, but this year, cases have nearly tripled. This has brought the spotlight back onto vaccinations.  

A Vaccination Clinic

A small line forms at the Sedgwick County Health Department; about 10 people are waiting to get a free MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Jeanette Huedepohl is one of them; she’s a nanny for two kids.

“I just want to make sure there's no way they can get it, so I’m getting vaccinated as a precaution.”

The free clinic was put together in response to the 14 cases of measles reported in Kansas, 11 of which are in Sedgwick County. Adrienne Byrne-Lutz, who works with the Sedgwick County Health Department, says MMR vaccines can cost as much as $78.

A sign in front of the Sedgwick County Health Department promotes a free clinic. A special Back-to-School Vaccination Clinic will be held on Saturday, July 26.
Credit Abigail Wilson

According to the Center for Disease Control, the only treatment for measles is to reduce its symptoms, which are commonly a fever, rash and cough. Measles can lead to complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis, which is what makes the spike in reported cases this year troubling to health officials.“So it’s a fairly costly vaccination, but we didn’t want it to be a barrier to anyone getting the MMR. We really want to contain this and not have it spread.”

“Prior to this year we averaged 60 cases a year in the U.S., and from January 1 to July 1 of 2014, we are at 557,” Adrienne Byrne-Lutz explains.

Credit The Center for Disease Control

The First Local Cases

Five cases in Wichita have been connected to two Hibachi-style restaurants. Three employees and one guest at Sal’s Japanese Steakhouse were found to have measles;  and one employee at Sumo By Nambara came down with the disease. Ivy Yang owns the Sumo By Nambara restaurant.

Sumo By Nambara, 11233 East 13th Street North, had one employee come down with measles.
Credit Hugo Phan

“We have had a good track record with the health department. We grew from a very small restaurant, we owe the community a responsibility to stay on top of hygiene standards, health standards, and food standards,” she says. “So, that's what we've been doing and that's how we've grown all these years.”

Yang says employees at the two Hibachi restaurants are friends with one another, and it’s not a coincidence that both locations had cases of measles. She has since made sure that all of her staff members are vaccinated, but she’s not sure where it first came from.

Sal's Japanese Steakhouse, 6829 E Kellogg Dr, had three employees and one guest come down with measles.
Credit Hugo Phan

“Measles, chicken pox, these are not food related diseases. It could have been anybody—it could have been a customer walking into the restaurant and just unknowingly helped spread the disease. In this case, it's just unfortunate that it was an employee at a restaurant.”

None of the individuals in Kansas who contracted measles had been vaccinated previously—a problem health officials struggle with.

Vaccines And Autism

The 6th floor of Wesley Medical Center in Wichita is the location for the Department of Quality and Infection Control. Joann Paul is the director; she’s also a registered nurse. Part of the department’s job is to keep infectious diseases from spreading through the hospital. She says measles is highly contagious.

“You’re contagious before you even know you’ve got the disease. Two to four days before the patient even breaks out [in a rash], they’re already spreading the virus in the community,” Paul says. “Measles is an airborne virus, that means if you breathe it out and then I come into your personal space and breathe it in, if I’m susceptible, I can catch it.”

Joann Paul is Director of Quality and Infection Control at Wesley Medical Center. She says there's no link between autism and vaccines.
Credit Sean Sandefur

Paul is a firm believer in vaccination, but says some parents are suspicious of them because of a study published ten years ago.

“The researchers associated immunization with autism, we now know that that study was totally fallacious—the data was made up. It wasn’t even misinterpreted data, it was false data,” she says.

Paul adds that this didn’t keep the study from being published over and over on the Internet, and many parents read it. She says health officials have since fought to correct the stigma it created.

“I know pediatricians that spend hours with families, because no one wants our children hurt or harmed, so they’ve read that and put a doubt in their minds. It’s absolutely safe.”

Immunization Is The Law

The State of Kansas requires vaccination for its public schools, including the MMR vaccine. Kathy Hubka is coordinator of Health Services for Wichita Public Schools. She says there are exemptions to vaccine requirements, including medical concerns.

“We also have kids whose families write a statement for religious exemption, that they are of a religion that doesn’t allow them to get a vaccine,” Hubka says.

Wichita Public Schools require a doctor’s note for medical exemptions. They also may ask for a note from a family’s religious leader, but they have never asked for one. Hubka says there are also parents who simply can’t afford the vaccines.

Credit Beth Golay

For More Information On Kansas' Immunization Requirements, Click Here

“The nurses will work to connect them with a healthcare provider, a doctor’s office or a safety net clinic, so they can get the shots and they won’t be excluded from attending class.”

Hubka estimates that less than five percent of all children in Wichita Public Schools are currently exempt from vaccination. She says that with classes starting in just a couple of weeks, Wichita Public Schools will be increasingly mindful of vaccination records and with the symptoms of measles.

The Sedgwick County Health Department only immunized about 70 people during their first free clinic, despite them having hundreds of vaccines available. They will hold a "back-to-school" vaccination clinic from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. this coming Saturday, July 26, at 2716 W. Central, Wichita.

Follow Sean Sandefur on Twitter, @SeanSandefur

Originally aired on Morning Edition on July, 23 2014.