Health officials expect Lakewood measles outbreak to spread

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

The Four Corners Bagel & Café on James Street is a popular breakfast spot in the Lakewood community.

On Oct. 24, the Ocean County Health Department was alerted that one of its residents got measles — a highly contagious disease — while traveling internationally.

The bagel shop and the doctor’s office upstairs are listed on the state Department of Health website as locations where people may have been exposed about three weeks ago.

“The virus is stable in the environment for two hours. After that time period, there would be no more concern,” said Ocean County Health Department public health coordinator Daniel Regenye.

At the doctor’s office, a sign on the door warns patients: “If you were in our office on Wednesday Oct. 31 between 11:15 and 2:45 or Thursday Nov. 1 between 12 and 4:30 you may have been exposed to measles. If your child has fever, cold, cough, pink eye or rash, please go immediately back to your car and call the office or my cell.”

It can take 5 to 21 days before symptoms appear.

“The high concern with measles is that the individual will be contagious four days prior to rash onset to four days post-rash onset, so the person could be walking around the community without signs and symptoms shedding virus,” Regenye said.

As of this week, there are 14 confirmed cases in Ocean County and 16 potential cases under investigation.

“Almost 90 percent of non-immune individuals who are exposed to an infested person will get infected,” said Dr. Manal Youssef-Bessler, president of the Infectious Disease Center of New Jersey.

People who are not vaccinated are at risk of severe complications including pneumonia and hearing loss. State Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal says by not getting vaccinated they are also putting others at risk.

“This outbreak was completely preventable. We are really trying to get vaccines in many people as possible.” said Elnahal.

Elnahal also believes this is the early stage of this outbreak.

“It is likely that it will be higher than 14. We are still tracking the situation,” he said.

The Lakewood community has a large orthodox population, but Elnahal says he does not believe that religious exemptions from vaccines are playing a role in this outbreak.

“That connection is often made, but it should be known that there are people from every community that choose not to get vaccines,” Elnahal said.

The infected range in age from 6 months to 27 years old. Regenye says some of the people who contracted the disease were in the process of getting their vaccinations.

“The MMR vaccine that will protect against measles is recommended for 1 year of age and the second dose between 4 and 6 years of age. During an outbreak situation, they could accelerate that to offer that vaccine to protect the child,” he said.

According to Health Department data, 94.6 percent of New Jersey’s 522,000 school kids are vaccinated.

Health officials say increasing vaccinations rates is key to stopping the outbreak from spreading further and that it’s essential for people to pay attention to their whereabouts and report symptoms.