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Measles Via Train Raises Concerns


A train-rider who was found to have contracted measles has brought that distant Disneyland outbreak of the childhood disease home for many across the Northeast.

On Friday, the New York State Health Department disclosed that a Bard College student took a 1:20 p.m. Amtrak train from New York City's Penn Station to Albany and then to Niagara Falls the previous Sunday. The media got hold of the story and - pardon the pun - the news went viral, spread with headlines like "Thousands of commuters were potentially exposed to the disease by an infected Bard College student."

But there was much that was not reported:  Officials told ABC News the student contracted the illness in Germany, then flew to New York before taking Amtrak train #283 to Rhinebeck on the same day. He DID NOT travel through Albany, nor on to Niagara Falls. He got off in Rhinecliff.

Even still, it’s the latest flare-up in a debate that has puzzled public health officials, as some parents decide not to vaccinate their children against long-controlled diseases.

WAMC commentator Sean Philpott-Jones is director of Center for Bioethics and Clinical Leadership at Union Graduate College:      "In 2000, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually declared that measles had been eradicated in the United States. And what that meant was because of our strong vaccination programs, as well as the strong public health response to identifying and responding to cases of measles, we actually had eliminated all naturally-occurring cases in the United States."

CDC Director Tom Frieden on Sunday warned that the U.S. could see a "large outbreak" of measles.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie weighed in, disagreeing with President Barack Obama, who in a Sunday interview urged all parents to vaccinate their kids. Hours later, Christie, in the United Kingdom on a foreign trade mission, clarified his remarks.   "What I said was there has to be a balance. And it depends on what the vaccine is and what the disease type is and all the rest. I didn't say I'm leaving people the option. What I'm saying is you have to have that balance in considering parental concern."

Philpott-Jones has a few choice words of criticism for the media:    "They've actually given anti-vaccinationists a very strong forum for their position and particularly with these measles stories they've gone out of their way to actually present pediatricians who serve primarily wealthy communities where there is astrong anti-vaccination movement, and these individuals are misrepresenting measles as a sort of mild childhood disease and really underplaying the public health emergency that the re-emergence of measles actually presents in the United States."

New York has had three cases of measles so far this year.  Anyone who has been immunized against measles and those born before 1957 are not at risk.

The Dutchess County Department of Health held a measles vaccination clinic Friday at Bard, although New York State requires that all college students show proof of immunity to measles.

Bard was not available for comment Monday, but the college said in statement that it is “following health department procedures to help ensure that this one case is the only case.”

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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