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Facing A Measles Outbreak


Six-hundred and ninety-five measles cases nationwide - that is the highest number since the disease was declared eradicated in the U.S. back in 2000. That's according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says there are cases now in 22 states. Most are from a few large outbreaks, one in Washington state, two others in New York. The New York outbreaks are among the largest and longest lasting since the year 2000. In New York City, there are at least 390 confirmed cases in Brooklyn and Queens, more in upstate New York.

Dr. Joseph Kaplovitz is on the front lines of the outbreak there. He works in an Orthodox Jewish community which has been hit especially hard by the outbreak. He works at the NYU Langone Stepping Stones Pediatrics Clinic based in Brooklyn's Borough Park neighborhood.

Thanks so much for being here.

JOSEPH KAPLOVITZ: Thank you so much for having me. Good morning.

MARTIN: Clearly, you are facing a highly contagious virus. How are you dealing with patients when they come to you?

KAPLOVITZ: Well, the first thing is that we actually don't even let them come into the clinic. We have a big sign on the outside of the clinic stating that if you do have a fever and rash, do not come in. Call the office. And actually, the doctors will come out to see you.


KAPLOVITZ: Physically, outside on the street. We do not want this disease in the office because the droplets remain into the air up to two hours once someone has sneezed or coughed. So therefore, that makes this disease very, very highly contagious. And the person can even be gone, meaning that they have sneezed, coughed and then left, and the room is still considered a contagious area.

MARTIN: New York City, as you know, declared a public health emergency over the measles outbreak, ordered mandatory vaccinations earlier this month. But there are still more cases. I mean, why is this happening? Is it families who refuse to vaccinate their kids?

KAPLOVITZ: Well, I think that there's a couple of problems. So first of all, you should know that in the Orthodox Jewish community, immunization is taken very, very seriously. Community health is taken very, very seriously. I would say probably close to 95 percent of people believe that you should be immunized. I think that there's a very vocal minority which is probably a microcosm of the bigger anti-vaccine movement nationwide that we're actually seeing. But the issue I find also that's the thing compounding this much more is that a lot of these families are living in apartment complexes, multi-family houses, with shared hallways and entrances. So therefore, you have one person that has the measles. They walk through, you know, the common hallway that the 50 families use. So now they've basically exposed that whole entire apartment building.

MARTIN: Are you seeing any change in the community? I mean, are you seeing Orthodox Jews who ordinarily would not vaccinate - because of the severity of this crisis, are you seeing them change?

KAPLOVITZ: Absolutely. We have, actually - there are some who, actually, that's the only shot they even have. I do think that there is some confusion, that there are some people who are on the fence and therefore, some people who, let's say, will delay immunization as a result of being worried in terms of autism. Again, a false claim. Basically, most kids in the community are basically up to date when they're ready to go to school. And actually, believe it or not, from what I'm seeing on the ground, the schools have been doing an amazing job. The yeshivas have been doing an amazing job in terms of making sure that kids do not enter the yeshiva unless they're immunized.

MARTIN: Who is most at threat right now?

KAPLOVITZ: Most at threat are, of course, are people who are not immunized, obviously, which sometimes are the littlest children in the community and, say, probably the kids who are a year younger. People who are immunocompromised. You're talking about some of the elderly, also, you know, where their immune systems aren't necessarily working as well. So some of the parents and the people that are propagating this anti-vaccine literature, they don't realize what they're playing with.

MARTIN: Dr. Joseph Kaplovitz works at the NYU Langone Stepping Stones Pediatrics Clinic, talking to us this morning from Brooklyn. Dr. Kaplovitz, thank you so much.

KAPLOVITZ: Thank you so much. Have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.