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Baltimore Jewish leaders issue guidance on measles after case is confirmed in Maryland

A group of local Jewish spiritual leaders, schools and organizations is calling for vigilance in vaccination after a child was diagnosed with measles last week.

The state health department confirmed a case of measles Friday, marking the first case in Maryland this year as the disease has spread in high numbers across the country. The health department warned people in Pikesville who visited 4000 Old Court Road between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. April 2 to monitor themselves for early measles symptoms, including fever, runny nose, cough and red, watery eyes.

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As of Tuesday, no new cases had been reported in Maryland, according to the state health department.

After the diagnosis was confirmed, a collection of Jewish rabbis, schools and organizations in the Baltimore area issued a letter Monday advising the community that a child in the local Jewish community had been diagnosed with measles. They urged caution when traveling to other areas affected by the highly contagious disease.

“The measles case came to our attention because we have been very active in trying to ensure that our situation remains stable and safe because there have been other outbreaks in other cites and other countries,” said Rabbi Moshe Hauer, who leads the Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion congregation in Baltimore.

Outbreaks have been seen elsewhere in the country, including in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Washington and California. Nationwide, 465 cases of measles were confirmed in 19 states through April 4, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Outbreaks in New York have affected the state’s Orthodox Jewish communities. In New York City, there were 285 confirmed cases of measles in Brooklyn and Queens from October through April 8, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Most of those cases have been within Orthodox Jewish circles, and the original case occurred after a child visited Israel, the health department reported.

Another 168 cases have occurred through April 8 in New York’s Rockland County, according to the county’s website.

In November, the Rabbinical Council of Baltimore, of which Hauer is a member, joined peer groups in calling for adults and children to be properly vaccinated, and for schools not to admit children who were unvaccinated. The council further said medical exemptions for vaccines (which are difficult to obtain) should be respected, while religious exemptions for people of the Jewish faith should not.

“We as a community, thank goodness, have a very, very strong and high vaccination rate,” Hauer said. “The organized Orthodox Jewish community is literally shoulder-to-shoulder in support of vaccination. The rabbinical council was unanimous in putting out the standards.”

In response to the case confirmed last week, the local Jewish organizations advised people who might have been exposed to measles to contact their doctor before going to a doctor’s office and to ensure that children and adults have received both doses of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. The groups also urged those who have not been vaccinated to avoid public places.

Hauer said the rabbinical council plans to issue additional recommendations Wednesday, and the community might host an MMR vaccine clinic in the days ahead.

He said it was important to the rabbinical council to take a stand on measles vaccination because it felt a responsibility to uphold the public health of the greater community.

“The anti-vax community sometimes makes a lot of noise and can be confusing and misrepresented as a mainstream position,” Hauer said. “They certainly are playing into fears and people are vulnerable.”

A relatively low percentage of Maryland children are not vaccinated for at least one condition compared with other states. But the rate of unvaccinated children entering kindergarten in Maryland nearly doubled during the past decade amid a nationwide trend against vaccination, leaving more people at risk of contracting potentially life-threatening disease.

“There are pockets within the community generally who have been caught up in the anti-vax campaign, but in Baltimore it is a small number,” Hauer said.

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