CDC dispatches team to Chicago as measles cases prompt concerns

As measles cases tick upward, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), on Tuesday, confirmed three more cases of the disease at the city’s migrant shelter in Pilsen.

This comes as the nation is seeing a resurgence of the infection, with cases of measles now present in 17 states.

As the city grapples with eight confirmed measles cases since last week, health experts are warning that more cases are imminent. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has dispatched a team from its headquarters in Atlanta to Chicago.

Their mission is clear: to provide guidance, identify exposures, and administer vaccines.

"The support the state has asked us for is to augment the work they’re already doing," said Dr. Manisha Patel, Chief Medical Officer, CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD).

Meanwhile, at the direction of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) are also mobilizing resources.

Of the eight confirmed cases, seven originated from the Pilsen facility while one case is unrelated to the shelter outbreak.

Those cases include at least two migrant children, one of whom is a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) student.

Before last week, Chicago hadn’t seen a single case of measles since 2019.

"This is something we should be concerned about, but this is not something we should panic over," said Dr. Nicholas Cozzi, EMS medical director, Rush University Medical Center.

Measles, a highly contagious and serious respiratory infection, can linger in the air for up to two hours and can become infectious four days before the appearance of a rash.

The symptoms of measles include rash, high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes, according to the CDPH. After exposure, the symptoms can take seven to 21 days to appear.

Over the weekend, CDPH officials administered the MMR vaccine to more than 900 residents at the Pilsen shelter. However, it can take up to three weeks for the vaccine to offer full protection, leading to concern that many migrants might have already been exposed to the virus.

"We have to remember, measles is not just at one facility, measles is in places you might vacation in the southwestern United States, as well as across the country," said Cozzi. "Immunization is the cure for measles. Only four out of 100 people who are immunized for measles will ever develop any symptoms. It's an incredibly safe vaccination and immunization."

At the shelter on Halsted Street, migrants who were previously vaccinated are allowed to come and go.

The 900 residents who received the measles vaccine over the weekend have been asked to stay in the facility.

City officials also say they are using hotels to quarantine exposed residents.

"And that's really to make sure that range of time that people might have to develop measles and then spread it, all of that time passes within those 21 days," said Patel.

Officials haven’t said how many residents are quarantined or which hotels are being used.

Despite precautions, many migrants are still spending their time outdoors at the Pilsen shelter. It’s unclear if those residents are in the population that is permitted to enter and exit the facility.

Additionally, migrants from the location have been seen using the CTA. FOX 32 Chicago reached out to officials to find out how entry and exit points are being monitored, but did not immediately hear back Tuesday.

Due to the outbreak, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Cook County Department of Public Health are providing vital resources to the city.

"IDPH is working to coordinate state assistance to support our local public health partners as they contend with a measles outbreak that reflects an ongoing national rise in measles this year," said IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra. "While the vast majority of Chicago and Cook County residents are vaccinated for measles and not at risk, we strongly support the call from the Chicago Department of Public Health for all unvaccinated residents to get the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine now. Measles is highly contagious and can cause serious complications for those that are non-immunized."

At the city’s landing zone, located at Desplaines and Polk on the Near West Side, the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) have established a standing presence to provide measles vaccinations as migrants arrive.

In the last seven days, at least four buses from Texas arrived in the area, officials said.