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Maryland woman misses cancer treatment after York Hospital measles case

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Now that the initial alarm has worn off from the Aug. 31 announcement that a York Hospital patient was diagnosed with measles, life has gone back to normal for most people.

But the measles scare interrupted Jennifer Russell's scheduled chemotherapy treatment at York Hospital, and she's still waiting for the all-clear from her physicians.

Russell, 51, of Carroll County, Maryland, has stage 4 uterine cancer.

"My cancer is a very, very serious cancer," she said. "The prognosis for most people that have it isn’t good, and I’m fighting for my life, and this interruption in my fight was very much unwelcome."

An unidentified patient diagnosed with the measles virus received care at WellSpan Stony Brook Health Center, 4222 E. Market St., on Aug. 26 and 28-29 and at WellSpan York Hospital on Aug. 26 and 29.

It was the 14th confirmed case of measles in Pennsylvania this year, according to the state Department of Health.

In addition to the two WellSpan facilities, the infected individual also  was at Fuddruckers, 2300 E. Market St. in Springettsbury Township, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 22; and Hershey Theater, 15 E. Caracas Ave. in Hershey, from 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Aug. 23.

Anyone who was at either of those locations around the listed times and is experiencing symptoms should contact the state Department of Health hotline at 1-877-PA-HEALTH.

Quarantine: While she and her husband were on their way to York Hospital for her treatment last week, Russell was notified about the situation.

She said the hospital told her to request a face mask right away when she arrived. Instead of beginning her four-day chemotherapy treatment, she said her doctors gave her antibodies and tested her blood to check her immunity levels.

Now, Russell is under quarantine at her home in Maryland for three weeks and can't resume her chemotherapy treatment until after the quarantine is lifted, Russell said. 

Jennifer Russell, 52, of Carroll County, Maryland, had to postpone her chemotherapy treatment at York Hospital because of the measles case diagnosed there in late August 2019.

Preventable illness: Russell said she's upset that anti-vaccination proponents are exposing other people to preventable diseases and that the choice not to vaccinate has a ripple effect that impacts others, particularly those whose immune systems are compromised, such as cancer patients.

"My critique isn’t about the particular individual," she said of the patient who was diagnosed at York Hospital. "I don’t wish to attack that individual because they could be as defenseless as I am."

Instead, it's the overall trend of rejecting immunization that worries Russell, she said.

Vaccinations: Anti-vaccination proponents have come under fire in recent years because of the increased incidence of diseases such as measles and mumps.

But immunization rates among Pennsylvania school children, and York County students in particular, remain high, according to state health department records.

More:WellSpan urges people possibly exposed to measles to call hotline

More:York County students have high immunization rates despite exemptions

In the 2017-18 school year, with 110 schools reporting, 97.8% of York County school children in kindergarten and seventh grade received two or more doses of the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine.

In 2016-17, with 108 schools reporting, the MMR immunization rate was 97.2%.

In 2015-16, with 116 schools reporting, the rate was 97.4%, and in 2014-15, with 125 schools reporting, the rate was 95.8%.

For the same years listed above, the overall statewide MMR immunization rates were 96.9%, 95.4%, 96.5% and 94.5%, respectively.

On its website, the state health department notes that none of the percentages in its data collection will add up to 100% because of incomplete enrollment information, approved exemptions and partial immunizations.

The health department will not release any information about the patient who was diagnosed, so details about the person's age, sex and immunization status were not available.

The number of people potentially exposed to measles by the infected individual is also not available, said health department spokeswoman Brittany Lauffer.

If you were near the patient: Measles spreads through coughing, sneezing or other contact with the mucus or saliva of an infected person.

Symptoms, which typically appear one to three weeks after exposure, include rash, high fever, cough and red, watery eyes.

Both WellSpan Medical Group and the state Department of Health have set up hotlines for people to call if they're concerned they were exposed to the measles virus by the infected individual.

Callers who were at either York Hospital or the Stony Brook health center on the dates listed above can call the hotline to find out if they were potentially exposed to the virus, based on the timeline of when they were at either facility.

The number for the WellSpan hotline is 717-851-5330, or call toll-free at 1-855-851-3641.

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 330 people had called the WellSpan hotline.

More:EDITORIAL: Vaccines continue to save lives