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INTERACTIVE: USF measles simulator shows how outbreak could spread in Tampa Bay

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – As confirmed measles cases across the country surpasses 700, a newly-developed outbreak simulator shows how serious the effects of lowered vaccination rates can be for the Tampa Bay area. 

In a partnership with the Public Health Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, the University of South Florida College of Public Health launched the simulator to demonstrate herd immunity — the idea that when enough people are vaccinated against a disease, the germs can’t travel as easily between people, making the entire community less likely to get the disease.

Using school vaccination data for Florida, USF’s public health researchers were able to represent the infection risks by individual school.

“I have to tell you it was actually pretty scary doing Texas and Florida [simulations],” said Dr. Mark Roberts, director of the University of Pittsburgh Public Health Dynamics Lab.”There are schools in each one of those states that have vaccination rates down in the 40 percent range.”

The model starts with the scenario of a single student with measles attending school in a given county or metropolitan area in the state, and shows how the disease could spread over a 266-day period.

“The map on the left is how the disease could spread with current vaccination rates,” said Dr. Karen Liller, a public health professor at USF and director of the Activist Lab at the College of Public Health. “The map on the right is with vaccination rates only 10 percent lower.”

Based on current vaccination rates in the the Lakeland-Winter Haven area that means 14 students could have the disease, with the number growing to 8,099 cases by day 266.

In the Tampa Bay metropolitan area, which includes Pasco county, the numbers are even more alarming with the outbreak growing from 16 cases to 18,673.

The results of the simulation were shocking, Liller said.

“I was amazed,” Liller said. “Measles is just so infectious that one person can infect 18 others, but to watch how rapidly it could spread in our community is incredible.”

To see how a measles outbreak could impact your community, view the simulator

Almost five months into 2019, this year has been worst year for measles in the United States since 1994, when more than 950 cases were reported.

Last week alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 78 new cases, bringing the total to 704.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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