May 6 (UPI) -- Minnesota health officials are grappling with the largest measles outbreak in the state in nearly 30 years, largely fueled by the anti-vaccination movement.
Officials said all but one of the 44 patients are children under age 11. Most are under age 5. One adult, a healthcare worker, developed the disease despite being vaccinated.
The state health department is asking those who have been exposed to the highly contagious respiratory illness to avoid contact with other people for 21 days. Doctors warn it is early in the outbreak, so more cases are expected.
"We're going to be seeing this for a while," said Dr. Shane McAllister, assistant professor in pediatric infectious disease and immunology at the University of Minnesota's Masonic Children's Hospital.
The outbreak has been centered in the large Somalian-American community in and around Minneapolis. Local residents said anti-vaccine groups organized meetings to spread their information with parents. Andrew Wakefield, the discredited researcher who launched the modern anti-vaccine movement, spoke personally with parents. Wakefield's theory that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, or MMR, triggers autism has been debunked by the scientific community.
The first dose of the MMR is administered to children at age 1 and a second dose between ages 4 and 6.