L.A. Orthodox community hit by measles outbreak
A measles outbreak in the Los Angeles Orthodox Jewish community has prompted measures to contain the serious but preventable disease.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed 18 people in the county had measles, none of whom could provide a record of vaccination. Among them, “16 of these cases are linked to unvaccinated people in the same social group,” a health department spokesperson told the Journal in an email.
Rabbi Hershy Z. Ten, president of the Jewish health organization Bikur Cholim, said a health department official notified him on Dec. 25 that there was a measles outbreak in the Orthodox community.
Measles is a highly contagious virus that can be prevented in most people by childhood vaccination. The disease spreads through interpersonal contact and can linger in an area for up to two hours after an infected person has left. In serious cases, it can lead to brain damage or death.
Ten called the outbreak a serious threat that should be addressed by ensuring every member of the community is vaccinated.
“Our leadership, both in schools and in synagogues, need to educate their parent body and need to create policies that create greater protection for students and their families,” he said.
Some organizations are already taking steps in that direction.
LINK, a synagogue and community center on Robertson Boulevard, sent an email to members noting the outbreak.
“If your child is not immunized for measles, we kindly but firmly request that you do not bring him/her to LINK,” synagogue leadership stated in the email.
Yavneh Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox elementary school in Hancock Park, wrote to parents that, although Yavneh was not affected, the school had been notified of “a small number of private schools in the Los Angeles area where a few cases of measles have been reported.”
In a Dec. 28 email, Yavneh’s school nurse, Lisette Ohana, said the school follows a new state law, passed in 2015, that requires all students to receive vaccinations before being admitted to schools and daycare centers.
“Here at Yavneh we enforce this immunization law and require that all our students be up-to-date on all required vaccines,” Ohana said. “This law is meant to protect our students and staff, school and Jewish communities, and the larger Los Angeles community.”
Ten, the Bikur Cholim president, said schools that don’t currently go “above and beyond the current legislation” by requiring students to be vaccinated should adopt such a policy immediately.
“We’re hopeful that this [outbreak] will begin a conversation that will go beyond just talking about the medical risks, but of implementing some changes that will provide greater protections for all,” he said.
To jumpstart that conversation, and to educate the community on the risks of measles, Ten convened a Jan. 9 teleconference that included more than 70 Jewish day-school faculty and synagogue rabbis from the greater Los Angeles area, he said.
On the call was Dr. Franklin Pratt, medical director for the L.A. County health department’s immunization program, and other experts. Ten said Pratt confirmed the outbreak on the call and said the health department expects the number of cases to rise before it is over.
Ten said there was no excuse — religious, economic or otherwise — for parents not to vaccinate their children. In the past, Bikur Cholim has brought county health department nurses into community centers such as Beth Jacob Congregation and Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn to administer free vaccinations.
In Judaism, Ten said, “a basic tenet is to lead a healthy lifestyle and to protect one’s family and to protect one’s community.” Vaccinating children falls under that tenet, he said.
Parents with a child showing symptoms of measles — high fever, red and watery eyes, runny nose and a rash — are encouraged to call a doctor rather than bring the child directly to an emergency room or doctor’s office, where they would risk infecting others.