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Look inside the Wisconsin lab preparing for a local measles outbreak

Posted at 8:51 AM, May 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-10 10:25:34-04

Measles is coming to Wisconsin. Local health officials believe it’s a matter of time before the nationwide outbreak spreads to our state, and the Milwaukee Health Department will play a key role in the region’s response.

Milwaukee Commissioner of Health, Jeanette Kowalik, will be part of the front line response to a local measles outbreak. “Public health is 24/7,” she said. “If we have a suspected measles case, normally we're notified right away. Our lab director, our medical director, immunization manager, and myself.”

The lab at the Milwaukee Health Department is where a “likely” case of measles could be confirmed. Samples sent to the lab are analyzed, and in the case of measles, results expedited.

“Whenever we have a reintroduction of a disease that hasn't been alive or that hasn't existed in our community for quite some time, that activates an incident command type of response,” Kowalik explained.

Once a case of measles is confirmed in the area, the race is on to contain the virus. “Our staff are doing interviews with the individual that is infected,” Kowalik detailed, “…and finding out all the points of where they may have exposed other people, and then we have to do follow ups on all of those individuals.”

In addition to educating the public, and encouraging vaccinations, the Milwaukee Health Department is also preparing for measles arrival by working with local health providers. The very doctors who we’ll be counting on to make that critical diagnosis, have likely never seen a live case of disease. With confirmed cases in Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan, Kowalik expects the disease to arrive here any time. “Disease doesn't stay at a jurisdiction or a state line.”

The Milwaukee Health Department offers free vaccinations for children in the city. Get more information here.