Columbus Public Health has mobilized against a potential measles outbreak that is affecting a large immigrant population in the Minneapolis area.

Officials from the agency said they have been reaching out to the local Somali community, recommending people in the group get an immunization for measles, mumps and rubella. The inoculation is often referred to as the MMR shot.

Health officials in Hennepin County, which includes much of the Minneapolis metropolitan area, said there had been 78 measles cases reported as of June 23; 65 of those affected were Somalis.

Reports said 73 of the cases were children younger than 10 years old. Another one was an adolescent between 10 and 17 years old and four were adults.

That's of particular concern for central Ohio, which has the second-largest Somali population in the U.S., estimated to be 50,000, said Ryan Johnson, program manager of minority health for Columbus Public Health.

The agency held two community forums on the issue May 19-20 and continues to hold smaller presentations, Johnson said.

Outreach workers are struggling with the perception that vaccines are harmful and can lead to autism, Johnson said. There also is a language barrier in some cases, he said.

The good news is that measles infections have been scarce throughout Ohio in recent years, with zero infections reported in 2016 and one in 2015, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

However, those years were preceded by an outbreak in 2014, which sickened 382 Amish residents who were infected by missionaries returning home from the Phillipines.

The rate of MMR vaccinations for children between the ages of 19 and 35 months old fell from 95.6 percent in 2014 to 88.1 in 2015, according to statistics from the Ohio Department of Health.

Dr. Michael T. Brady, a pediatrics expert at Nationwide Children's Hospital, said the measles immunization is far safer than the disease itself, which can lead to high fever, pneumonia and a degenerative neurological condition called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis that results in death in a few years.

Measles, he said, is one of the leading killers worldwide, and more likely to cause a serious disease than mumps and rubella.

The MMR vaccine contains an attenuated -- or live -- measles virus that is weakened, helping the body build up an immunity to the disease without becoming infected, Brady said.

Measles infections were far more prevalent in the 1950s and '60s in the U.S., but as cases dwindled, the disease has been "out of the consciousness" of most Americans, Brady said.

In today's global society, unvaccinated immigrants are bringing measles to America, and unvaccinated Americans are traveling to countries where the disease remains prevalent, becoming infected and bringing it back, he said.

Brady said a study linking vaccines to autism have been rebuked by the scientific community.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary