By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The measles outbreak in Minnesota has grown to 20 cases and health officials only expect that number to keep rising.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) said all 20 cases involve Somali children. They said it’s confirmed that 16 of them have not been vaccinated. The remaining four are awaiting test results.

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“This has nothing to do with being Somali, it has everything to do with being unvaccinated,” said Kris Ehresmann, MDH Infectious Disease Director. “At this point it’s about 50 percent of the cases that have been reported have been hospitalized so that again speaks to the severity of this disease.”

The last measles outbreak happened in 2011 with 26 confirmed cases.

Ehresmann believes the current outbreak will reach that number, if not pass it. She said people who contracted the virus might not show symptoms for up to three weeks.

She said the outbreak began at a childcare facility and has since branched out as each child was exposed to others.

“With Somalis, we know that it’s a community that’s been targeted for misinformation from the anti-vaccine community and so that’s a bit distressing,” she said.

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Even if a child got the MMR vaccine at birth, the MDH is urging families to get the second dose for their child right away and not wait until they’re in pre-school. They’re also urging non-vaccinated adults to get their first dose.

Abdirizak Bihi, an activist for the Somali community, has also been trying to spread the word about the concern for measles. He posted a video on Facebook urging families to get their children vaccinated.

“It’s one thing we have to prove to the community is that this vaccination, especially MMR are not the cause of the autism,” he said. “That’s a really tough case to sell.”

Bihi said doctors at the People’s Clinic in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood of downtown Minneapolis, where many Somali people live, are already talking with families. Bihi said he doesn’t believe the outbreak started in that neighborhood based on talking with families.

“Next few weeks, few days, our Imams, our healthcare providers will be assembling quick meetings to really get the word out and urge the community to get the vaccinations,” he said.

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MDH states measles symptoms include high fever, cough, runny nose, and watery eyes followed by a rash that typically spreads from the head to the rest of the body.

Jeff Wagner