Researchers who in 2015 correctly predicted where the Zika outbreak would strike in the U.S. say they think the country’s next big measles outbreak is most likely to happen in Cook County.
A research project spearheaded by Sahotra Sarkar, a University of Chicago-educated professor at the University of Texas at Austin, revealed the 25 counties most at-risk for a widespread measles outbreak, like those seen in Washington, Oregon and New York. Sarkar and his former student, Lauren Gardner of Johns Hopkins University, determined Cook County was the most at-risk for an outbreak. That’s based largely on the number of airplane flights to Chicago from global destinations where parents increasingly don’t have their children vaccinated, he said.
“Cook County turns out to be as important as it is, mainly because of the presence of O’Hare Airport,” Sarkar said.
The study was published Thursday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. The research took about six months to complete, using risk assessment models similar to one Sarkar and Gardner used when they determined Zika, a mosquito-carried virus that can cause serious birth defects, would first affect Texas and Florida when it emerged as a global threat to pregnant women.
Rachel Rubin, a senior medical officer with the Cook County Health Department, wasn’t surprised by the study’s findings. The seven measles cases reported in Illinois this yearmay have stemmed from encounters with people who were infected overseas and traveled back to Illinois, she said, adding it’s unknown if any cases were connected.