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Additional measles case reported at Florida elementary school as lawmaker urges public health emergency

<i>Geoffrey Clowes/Sipa USA/File via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Seven measles cases are linked to Manatee Bay Elementary in Weston
Geoffrey Clowes/Sipa USA/File via CNN Newsource
Seven measles cases are linked to Manatee Bay Elementary in Weston

By Amanda Musa, CNN

(CNN) — Seven measles cases have now been linked to an outbreak at Manatee Bay Elementary in Weston, Florida, the Broward County schools superintendent said Tuesday. The Florida Department of Health is reporting 10 cases statewide.

The additional cases were reported as lawmakers and health officials from across the country are calling for parents and state officials to take additional steps to protect students. Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo wrote in a letter last week that the health department is “deferring to parents or guardians to make decisions about school attendance” during the outbreak.

Nine of the state’s measles cases are in Broward County, and all of those involve children, according to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health.

Seven of the children are between 5 and 14 years old, data shows. The two other children are younger than 4.

The state’s 10th case is a travel-related diagnosis in an adult that was reported in Polk County, according to the state Department of Health.

Measles is a highly contagious disease that can have complications and even turn deadly, according to the CDC. Symptoms may include fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes and a rash of red spots. In rare cases, it may lead to pneumonia, encephalitis or death. Measles also can weaken the immune system and may “delete” its immune memory.

The measles virus can spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, lingering in the air for up to two hours after they leave a room.

Experts recommend that children get the measles, mumps and rubella or MMR vaccine in two doses: the first between 12 months and 15 months of age, and a second between 4 and 6 years old. One dose is about 93% effective at preventing measles if you come into contact with the virus. Two doses are about 97% effective.

State health officials have not responded to CNN’s questions about the vaccination status of the children under 5, whether there have been any hospitalizations and more details about the case in Polk County.

US Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, who represents the city of Weston, called Tuesday for Ladapo — who was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis — to declare a public health emergency and to require unvaccinated children to stay home from school during this outbreak.

Ladapo’s advisory, informing parents of unvaccinated children that they could decide whether to send their children to school, is contrary to guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that call for people who have been exposed to measles and who are not vaccinated against the virus to stay home for up to 21 days — around the length of time it takes for measles symptoms to appear after exposure.

The most recent Manatee Bay student to be diagnosed with the virus has not been on campus since February 15, according to Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Peter Licata, meaning they are still in the quarantine period.

Wasserman Schultz also called for Ladapo’s resignation or termination and urged DeSantis to do more to protect Floridians.

“I would have thought he would have stepped in here or made sure there was some communication to ensure that irresponsible guidance isn’t issued by his surgeon general,” she said. “And the fact that he hasn’t taken action to roll that back is representative of Ron DeSantis’s disinterest in keeping the public’s health safe.”

Ladapo’s office has not responded to CNN’s request for comment regarding Wasserman Schultz’s comments Tuesday.

The Florida Department of Health posted a notice to health-care providers on its website reminding that suspected measles cases must be reported immediately and linking to guidance on identification, testing and management of cases.

In a statement shared Monday, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) said it is “alarmed” at the measles outbreaks in the United States.

“Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, but is still the most easily transmitted human virus presently in circulation. Thankfully, by following established public health principles, Americans can make informed decisions, prevent outbreaks, and protect our communities. Vaccination is the best and safest way to protect children,” Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of ASTHO, said in the statement.

“Because of the risk of severe disease from measles and the high likelihood of transmission to others even before symptoms are evident, well-established public health practice recommends that unvaccinated persons exposed to measles stay home for at least 21 days to prevent further growth of the outbreak.”

Adults and children who have not received the MMR vaccine should get it, especially if they live in a community experiencing an outbreak, ASTHO said.

“While this is undoubtedly disruptive to the persons impacted, imagine how much more disruptive it would be if measles takes hold again in the United States, spreading widely, and impacting children and communities across the entire nation,” Plescia said.

Measles cases have emerged in several states this year. As of Thursday, 35 measles cases have been reported by 15 jurisdictions: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York City, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, according to the CDC. In comparison, a total of 58 cases were reported for all of last year.

CNN’s Denise Royal, Shawn Nottingham and Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report.

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