In March, a traveler fundraising for a Brooklyn ultra-Orthodox Jewish community charity felt sick on his way to his next stop, Detroit.
He decided to see a doctor, but the doctor had never seen a case of measles and misdiagnosed his patient’s symptoms as bronchitis.
But over the next two weeks, the Washington Post reports, he became Michigan’s Patient Zero—the first in the state to carry the highly contagious measles infection.
He stayed in the homes of welcoming guests, shopped at local kosher markets, and worshipped in synagogues every day. And in going about his daily life, he spread the respiratory virus to 39 people. The story is a warning of how one of the most infectious diseases in the world can spread quickly among members of a tightly knit community, especially one on the outskirts of mainstream society.
“Every one of our cases has had a link to the initial case,” said Leigh-Anne Stafford, a health official for a Detroit suburb where the measles virus has been especially prevalent.
75 percent of reported measles cases over the past five years have taken place in various small communities including the Somali in Minnesota, the Amish in Ohio, and the ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York, according to the Center for Disease Control.
The recent outbreak has spread from travelers in the ultra-Orthodox communities in the Rockland and Westchester Counties of New York to Michigan’s Oakland County and Maryland’s Baltimore County. Connecticut officials on Friday announced that an adult was infected with measles from a trip to Brooklyn last month. 11 cases in Ocean County, New Jersey have led officials to investigate a possible link to the cases in New York.
“What’s similar about all of these communities is that they live in proximity to each other and spend a lot of their time interacting with each other,” said Daniel Salmon, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health professor of international health and the school’s Institute for Vaccine Safety director.“That’s what matters. Measles doesn’t care what your cultural heritage is."