New York mumps ‘started in Britain’

By Paul Berger, February 11, 2010
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American Charedim are battling a serious mumps outbreak that has been traced to the UK.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC), a US government health agency, says it is the worst mumps outbreak in the country since 2006. At least four children have been hospitalised.

The virus was brought to America by a New York boy, who caught mumps while holidaying in the UK last summer.

At the time, the UK had 4,000 confirmed cases.

Upon his return to New York, the boy visited a summer camp, where the disease spread to some 25 children. By the end of October, the CDC reported about 200 cases, almost all amongst Charedim in New York and New Jersey.

This week, the CDC confirmed 1,500 cases in the US. That number is likely to rise as regional health authorities report their latest figures.

Some health officials in America have pointed to the low uptake of the MMR vaccine in the UK as a cause of the outbreak. Roz Cohen, of Monsey Medical and Dental Centre, which serves a large Jewish community in New York, said: “If the risk is only to your family then that’s your business. But once you are willing to expose your community, it’s not just your business anymore. Look at the ultimate repercussion.”

So far, the virus appears to be spreading through religious schools, particularly among boys.

Children should receive an MMR vaccine around age one. A follow-up dose is administered pre-primary school.

Dr Joseph Spitzer, a Stamford Hill doctor, says there is no evidence that uptake amongst British Charedim is lower than in the general population.

The CDC has no figures for MMR uptake amongst American Charedim, but local health departments are urging parents to make sure their children’s immunisations are up to date.

However, the vaccine is not 100 per cent effective. In Orange County in New York, which includes the Satmar village of Kiryas Joel, every one of the 500 confirmed cases involved a vaccinated child or adult, according to Rich Mayfield, a health department spokesman.

“We are concerned from a public health stance,” Mr Mayfield said. “But we’ve had a very successful relationship with Kiryas Joel over the years and dialogue continues to be pretty good.”

The Orange County health department is currently administering shots in three Jewish schools.

Meanwhile, New York City’s department of health this week confirmed 909 mumps cases. It is investigating an additional 344 cases.

The city’s health officials have announced a vaccination drive for people over the age of 10, who are invited to select medical centres located in the city’s Charedi communities next week.

The centres will have separate entrances for men and women and separate staff members to perform vaccinations.

    Last updated: 4:47pm, February 11 2010