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Chicago public health officials declare end to measles outbreak

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CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago Department of Public Health on Thursday declared an official end to a measles outbreak that was linked to a migrant shelter in the Pilsen neighborhood.

Chicago had 64 confirmed measles cases in April and March but has had no new cases in two full incubation periods for the disease—or 42 days.

While public health officials said that means the outbreak is now over in Chicago, they noted measles cases are still on the rise across the U.S. and around the world. Officials urged anyone who has not been vaccinated against measles to get the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine.

"The MMR vaccine is safe and by far the most effective way to protect yourself and others from future measles outbreaks, especially as tourism and travel ramp up over the summer months," Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Olusimbo Ige said. "Our goal is the elimination of measles in Chicago and everywhere, and with proper vaccination coverage, we know that zero is possible." 

Public health officials confirmed Chicago's first case of measles since 2019 on March 7. The next day, the city saw its first measles case at the Pilsen migrant shelter at 2241 S. Halsted St. At the time, it was the city's largest shelter for asylum seekers, with approximately 1,900 migrants living there. As of last week, a total of 525 migrants were staying at the Pilsen shelter.

Since the start of the outbreak, a total of 57 migrants at the shelter tested positive for measles.

In response to the outbreak, the city distributed more than 9,3000 doses of MMR vaccine at migrant shelters and began requiring all migrants staying in the Pilsen shelter to get vaccinated against measles.

Measles is a highly contagious disease that is mostly preventable with vaccines. Medical experts say two doses are 97% effective against measles. Conversely, according to the Mayo Clinic, about 90% of people who haven't had measles or been vaccinated will become infected when exposed to someone with the measles virus.

Measles causes a red, blotchy rash that usually appears first on the face and behind the ears. Other symptoms include high fever, cough, and congestion. It can be fatal, especially in young children. 

The population at the Pilsen migrant shelter has shrunk significantly in recent months, as the overall number of migrants living in city shelters also has continued to drop since the start of 2024.

As of Wednesday, a total of 7,233 migrants were living in 17 city-run shelters, a population decline of about 1,000 since the start of the month and down more than 50% from a total migrant shelter population of nearly 15,000 at the start of the year.

More than 42,000 migrants have been brought to Chicago, mostly from Texas, since August of 2022, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began sending asylum seekers to sanctuary cities across the U.S. in protest of the Biden administration's immigration policies and in an attempt to divide Democratic Party leaders ahead of the 2024 elections.

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