1. News

Hillsborough's risk of measles outbreak among highest in U.S., study says

The measles vaccine shown on a countertop at the Tamalpais Pediatrics clinic in Greenbrae, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
Published May 9

TAMPA — Hillsborough County is one of the nation's most at-risk areas for a measles outbreak, according to a study published this week.

It was one of four Florida counties ranked in the top 25 most vulnerable areas in the country, says the study, produced by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Johns Hopkins University.

Miami-Dade is the most susceptible county in the Sunshine State, ranking third in the nation. Broward County ranked seventh, Orange County was 14th and Hillsborough was 17th.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Anti-vaxxers blamed as record 25,000 Florida students claim religious objection to vaccines

The rankings are based on low-vaccination rates compounded by a high volume of international travel. Based on those factors, researchers identified Cook County, Ill., as most in danger of a measles outbreak in 2019. The findings were published Thursday in the online medical journal The Lancet.

More than 700 measles cases have been confirmed in the first four months of this year, according to the study. That's the highest number reported since measles was thought to be eradicated in the U.S. in 2000.

Hillsborough's risk for an outbreak has been on the rise since 2016, the study says.

For the current school year, 1,447 students in the county were granted religious exemption status for immunizations, according to the Florida Department of Health. That's 5.8 percent of the student population.

Their numbers are up from 2014, when 734 students — or 5.59 percent of those enrolled in the county — received religious exemptions.

The researchers observed that measles cases don't respect county lines and recommended that local officials be alert for outbreaks in adjacent counties.

In 2018, officials in neighboring Pinellas County reported seven measles cases after there had been no such cases for 20 years. None of the patients had been vaccinated, they said.

Measles is easily transmitted, highly contagious and can be spread through the air. In the study, each county's at-risk ranking was derived from multiple factors, including international air travel, county population, the incidence rate of measles outbreaks and the number of non-medical vaccine exemptions reported in that county.

The epidemic will worsen, researchers warn, as more and more parents choose not to vaccinate their children.

"The vaccine avoidance problem is not limited to measles," the study's lead author, University of Texas at Austin professor Sahotra Sarkar, said in a statement. "Pertussis — whooping cough — is another disease making a comeback because of dropping vaccination rates, and we predict serious outbreaks in the U.S. in the near future."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: In Pinellas, three cases of the measles revive concerns about those who don't vaccinate

Sarkar encouraged policymakers to focus on regions with lots of airline passengers traveling from affected countries, especially if there are even small local pockets of unvaccinated people already living in that county. The researchers warned the most at-risk areas that have yet to report a case are those with international airports, such as Miami, Orlando and Tampa.

They said their risk analysis correctly predicted reported measles outbreaks in Washington, Oregon and New York. Two-thirds of the counties that have reported measles cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were either included on the researchers' list of 25 high-risk counties or are adjacent to a county listed.

Travel to and from China, India, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand and Ukraine appears to pose the greatest measles risk, according to the study. The U.S. has already seen measles cases imported from the Philippines, Thailand and Ukraine.

Staff writers Justine Griffin and Kirby Wilson contributed to this report. Contact Caitlin Johnston at or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.


  1. A Brinks security guard and a Good Samaritan who came to his aid were shot during a robbery attempt at GTE Financial credit union in Brandon on Friday. Tony Marrero, Times Staff
    The search continued into the evening Saturday for the shooter, who is believed to be a serial bank robber.
  2. Mohammed "Mo" Haitham, 19, was a track star at Lakewood High School. He was one of the victims of the Naval Air Station Pensacola shooting on Friday, according to his mother and Lakewood High principal Erin Savage. CARRY PRATT  |  Photo by Carrie Pratt
    Mohammed Haitham just finished boot camp and had been reassigned to Pensacola.
  3. Paul Skalnik in a 1987 Pinellas County Sheriff's Office booking mug. He played a pivotal rule in the death row sentences of multiple inmates.
    From the archives: The Tampa Bay Times has covered Paul Skalnik, the subject of ProPublica and New York Times story, since 1987.
  4. St. Petersburg police said they arrested Jesse Millis-Dwyer after Homeland Security detected him uploading a sexually explicit photo of a 12-year-old girl to a Russian photo-sharing site. St. Pete
    Police said he uploaded photo to Russian picture-sharing site
  5. This photo taken from video provided by WEAR-TV shows emergency responders near the Naval Air Base Station in Pensacola, Fla., Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.  The US Navy is confirming that an active shooter and one other person are dead after gunfire at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. Area hospital representatives tell The Associated Press that at least 11 people were hospitalized. The base remains locked down amid a huge law enforcement response.   (WEAR-TV via AP) AP
    Family members on Saturday identified one of the victims as a 23-year-old recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who alerted first responders to where the shooter was even after he had been shot...
  6. Lawanda Ravoira, DPA, president & CEO, Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, said girls are subject to an alarming rate of violence and bullying and are not getting the help they need from counseling and other social services. CHRISTOPHER O'DONNELL  |  Times
    Leader of Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center comes to Tampa to warn of “unchecked crisis” of violence and victimization of middle and high school girls.
  7. This rendering shows Scientology's proposed L. Ron Hubbard Hall, a 3,600-seat auditorium with an all-glass facade at the corner of Garden Avenue and Court Street in downtown Clearwater. [Courtesy City of Clearwater]
    Plans for L. Ron Hubbard Hall go back 26 years. If constructed, it would have more seats than Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall.
  8. Classic Reflections Carriages is offering carriage rides starting at 6 p.m. Dec. 19-21 throughout downtown Brooksville. Reservations are made in person on each event date, starting at 4 p.m., in front of the historic courthouse. Brooksville Main Street
    Holiday events in Pasco and Hernando counties
  9. A huge number of homes owned by Baby Boomers will sell in the next 20 years. How will the trend affect the Florida housing market? CAMERON GILLIE  |  NAPLES DAILY NEWS
    The enormous generation born between 1946 and 1964 owns about 40 percent of the homes across the country.
  10. A Brinks security guard was shot during a robbery attempt at a GTE Financial credit union in Brandon Friday morning. TONY MARRERO  |  Times
    Deputies thought they had the suspect pinned down at the Bridgeport Apartments, but he fled.