Measles outbreaks can occur anywhere

Those who think measles has been eradicated in the United States should think again. An outbreak in California and five other states is just the latest to be reported. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 644 cases were reported in 2014, the most since 2000. Measles were reported in Fairfield County in March 2014.

The most recent outbreak has been traced to a non-vaccinated visitor to Disneyland, and that has led to secondary cases being reported which is not surprising since measles is one of the most contagious of all infectious diseases.

“Measles can quickly lead to outbreaks in groups of people that are unvaccinated because the early symptoms mimic many common viruses, and people can be contagious for four days before the telltale rash symptom appears,” said Theresa Santoro, president of RVNA (Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association).

The measles virus is spread through coughing and sneezing, but it can live for up to two hours on a surface or in the airspace where an infected person coughed or sneezed. Symptoms typically appear seven to 14 days after a person is infected. Measles typically begins with fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes and progresses to a rash, which usually starts on the face and spreads, along with a high fever.

Complications from measles can be serious, including severe diarrhea, permanent hearing loss, pneumonia, encephalitis, brain damage, mental retardation, and death. Children younger than five years of age, adults older than 20 years of age, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems are at particular risk for complications.

The best way to avoid being at risk for contracting measles is to be vaccinated, Ms. Santoro says. It usually takes 10 to 14 days after the immunization for a person’s body to develop immunity.

“Pull out your vaccination records to confirm that you have been immunized,” she suggests.

Those who have lost their immunization records and are unsure whether they have been vaccinated may ask their primary care physician to order a blood test that will determine immunity to measles from having had the disease or receiving the vaccine. People born in the U.S. before 1957 are considered to have immunity from measles. The vaccine became available in 1963.

Adults unsure of their vaccination history and know that they have not had measles can be vaccinated. RVNA, as well as many other health care providers, has measles vaccine in stock.

“We recommend that people visit their primary care physician to discuss their particular situation,” Ms. Santoro says. If they would like to receive the vaccine from RVNA, they just need to make an appointment and bring a prescription.

Children are routinely vaccinated at their pediatrician’s office during well-child exams, but if for some reason a child has not received the measles vaccine, Ms. Santoro urges they do so quickly.

Measles is quite common in many countries outside the U.S., so another step that Connecticut residents can take to protect themselves is to be vigilant while in places where international travelers congregate, such as theme parks, international airports, cruise ships, etc. Connecticut residents traveling abroad may also want to have a travel consultation with a travel health specialist to discuss their itinerary and health history, and to receive any recommended vaccines. RVNA offers this service.

“We know that measles spreads quickly among those with no immunity to it, and the side effects can be serious, even fatal,” Ms. Santoro says. “So during this outbreak, check your vaccination history, and that of your children.  Why not protect the ones you love?”