Reported Measles Case on Martha's Vineyard Was Misidentified
Monday, July 6, 2015 - 3:37pm
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has notified the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and public health officials that a case first identified by doctors and then confirmed by lab tests as measles, was actually not measles, according to Dr. Jeffrey Zack, chief of emergency medicine at the hospital.
Dr. Zack said the unvaccinated child originally thought to have the very contagious disease, apparently had a similar virus that tested positive in the same way measles would. He said the virus, which like most viruses does not have a name, was generally contagious but was not dangerous, and the symptoms were much less severe than measles.
“It’s not known to have done anything other than cause high fever, rashes and repository symptoms,” Dr. Zack said. “We screened about 10 cases where we felt it was close enough to test for, but they all ended up negative [for measles].”
Dr. Zack said the development is beyond rare.
“You have a clinical picture that was mimicking measles, you had an initial test from the (Massachusetts) Department of Public Health (DPH) that said it was measles,” Dr. Zack said. “It walked like a duck and it talked like a duck but it was a platypus. It’s a bit of a freak occurrence. Now we understand why we didn’t see any more cases.”
Dr. Zack said the experience helped highlight how local health officials can improve their response to an infectious disease.
“It’s a good and a bad thing,” Dr. Zack said. “Obviously it caused a great amount of anxiety and concern on the Island. It was a good learning experience for us in terms of responding to a potentially dangerous public health infection. We got a lot of practice in terms of what worked, and what didn’t work.”
The child, who lives in another state, came to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital emergency room on June 17. Late Friday afternoon, about 48 hours after the initial exam, DPH notified the hospital late Friday afternoon that cultures taken from the patient tested positive for measles.
That triggered a protocol involving DPH, local boards of health and the hospital. Epidemiologists traced the movement of the child and his family beginning on June 8, and issued an alert informing the public that child was at West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah libraries at various times while infectious. The child also visited the Airport Laundromat, as well as Ryan Family Amusements and Sharky’s Cantina in Oak Bluffs.
Dr. Zack said that as a result about 125 people were vaccinated against measles and other infectious childhood diseases at two free clinics organized by the hospital staff on June 24 and 25.
Dr. Zack said hospital staff and public health officials plan a debriefing in the near future to discuss what turned out to be an erroneous diagnosis, the response to the measles scare, and the implementation of the protocols intended to prevent the spread of the disease.