Who Is ‘Patient Zero’ in the 2019 Measles Outbreaks?

As we climb to ever higher case counts in the 2019 measles outbreaks, you might be wondering who to blame?

Who started the outbreaks?

How Does ‘Patient Zero’ Start a Measles Outbreaks?

As you have likely guessed, there is no one person who started all of this year’s outbreaks. Well, maybe there is. After all, who is responsible for so many folks not getting vaccinated?

In most cases though, we do know who started the outbreak – the “patient zero.”

And it is almost always an unvaccinated traveler, typically a US resident, who got measles abroad and brought it back into the U.S.

What happens next? If they expose a lot of people in an area with low vaccination levels, then you can expect a big outbreak. On the other hand, if most people are vaccinated and protected, you might not see any more cases in that area.

Who Is ‘Patient Zero’ in the 2019 Measles Outbreaks?

So who are these folks?

This year's measles cases are spread out in outbreaks in 26 different states. So there isn't only one patient zero...
This year’s measles cases are spread out in outbreaks in 26 different states. So there isn’t only one patient zero…

They aren’t people who had been recently vaccinated are giving others vaccine strain measles through shedding! That doesn’t happen.

Instead, at least 44 people triggered separate outbreaks after traveling from the Philippines, Ukraine, Israel, Thailand, Vietnam, Germany, Algeria, France, India, Lithuania, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

The 2019 measles outbreaks include the:

  • Rockland Outbreak – an unvaccinated teenager brought measles to Rockland County in September 2018 from Israel.
  • Brooklyn Outbreak – the initial case in Brooklyn was unvaccinated and got measles in October 2018 on a visit to Israel. Measles was reintroduced into the community at least six other times though, four cases were also acquired on visits to Israel, while two people got measles from the U.K., and one from Ukraine.
  • Pacific Northwest Outbreak – a child who had traveled from Ukraine to Washington was the first confirmed case and likely source of the Pacific Northwest measles outbreak.
  • Michigan Outbreak – a traveler from Brooklyn started the Michigan measles outbreak.
  • Northern California Outbreak – a “cluster” of cases in Butte, Tehama, and Shasta counties that was started by a traveler who had recently been to the Philippines.
  • Puget Sound Outbreak – triggered by a Canadian resident who traveled to Seattle, after completing a trip to Japan and New York, where he likely became infected.

Why is it important to find patient zero and know who started an outbreak?

Mostly, it helps you find everyone who was exposed to measles and hopefully limit and quickly control the outbreak.

Make sure you are fully vaccinated and protected, with two doses of MMR, before your next trip so that you're not the next patient zero.
Make sure you are fully vaccinated and protected, with two doses of MMR, before your next trip.

It should also remind everyone that the easiest way to avoid getting measles and avoid triggering an outbreak, is to get vaccinated and protected, especially if you plan on traveling out of the country.

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