New York is hit with the worst case of a measles outbreak in decades with 275 confirmed cases through the first week of March.

Reports indicated that the concentration of measles infection is from the Orthodox Jewish families in Rockland County who refused to have their children vaccinated.

Failure To Achieve Herd Immunity

As of March 13, Rockland County had 146 confirmed measles cases, the highest among all of the 12 states with reported outbreaks. Majority of the affected individuals are between ages 4 and 18.

More than 82 percent of those infected in Rockland County had no MMR vaccines. The New York City Health Department also confirmed 158 isolated cases in the Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Queens.

Rates of measles infection had increased steadily in the past years due to fears of immunization fueled by anti-vaccine activists.

"Cases in those states occurred primarily among unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities. These outbreaks were associated with travelers who brought measles back from Israel, where a large outbreak is occurring," according to CDC.

Doctors said that 95 percent of the population of an area should be vaccinated to achieve herd or community immunity.

Herd immunity is crucial to prevent disease outbreaks among high-risk populations. People with weakened or failing immune systems due to existing health conditions like HIV/AIDS or cancer will benefit from the protection.

Dr. Aaron Glatt, a rabbi who sits as the chairman at the department of medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospital, said vaccination is not necessarily against the Jewish law.

Challenges In Containment

To prevent the spread of outbreaks, the New York State Department of Health ordered that unvaccinated children should be kept out of school. The department specified exclusion criteria for all unvaccinated students, including those with religious or medical exemptions.

"Students who have not received their first or second dose of MMR vaccine, as appropriate, and lack evidence of serologic immunity will need to remain home for an additional 21 days after the date of last exposure in the schools," said the letter co-signed by Bradley Hutton, the deputy commissioner for public health.

Public health officials are strengthening their campaign of encouraging communities that modern vaccines are safe and effective in preventing communicable and fatal diseases.

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