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Measles Infects More Than 100 People, Including Some in Utah

Feb 03, 2015
Measles Vaccine

A measles outbreak that started in December has infected at least 102 people in 14 states, including Utah, as of Jan. 30. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most of these cases are part of an ongoing outbreak linked to Disneyland.

According to the Utah Department of Health, three Utah County residents, including two who had visited Disneyland in December, contracted measles. They are no longer contagious; however, they visited several public places during their infectious period, and Utah health officials are urging anyone who visited those places to contact the Utah Poison Control Center. You can view the list of places here.

So far, 393 people who were exposed have been identified in Utah. Of those, 238 were confirmed as having immunity. The active monitoring period for all but two of the others has ended. Health officials continue to work with schools, hospitals, community partners and the CDC to ensure that everyone exposed to measles is contacted and given information about vaccination, exclusion, quarantine and treatment.

"We haven't seen ongoing transmission with additional cases of measles in Utah, but it's a wake-up call," says Jeanmarie Mayer, MD, an infectious disease specialist at University of Utah Health. "Preliminary data from local public health indicate that about 30 percent of exposed Utahns were susceptible to measles. This highlights the importance of people knowing their vaccination status and increasing measles vaccination coverage in our community."

Measles is highly contagious. The virus spreads through coughing and sneezing. It can live for up to two hours on a surface. According to the CDC, 90 percent of people exposed to a person who has measles will become infected if they are not immune.

The virus is more likely to be found in places such as airports and tourist attractions where large numbers of people, including international visitors, congregate. As visitors return home, outbreaks may be triggered in other locations, especially where vaccination rates are lower.

The best protection against measles for individuals and the community is routine vaccination, the CDC says. Children should get the first dose of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) between 12 and 15 months of age and the second dose at 4 to 6 years of age. Older children who have not been vaccinated can receive the two doses of MMR at least 28 days apart.

Mayer notes that during an outbreak a baby older than 6 months who has been exposed to measles may be vaccinated if the child's health-care provider determines it appropriate. This second dose would be given around 12 months of age.

Some people, including pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals, should not receive the MMR vaccination.

If you are not vaccinated or think you may have been exposed, call your doctor. Symptoms of measles include a high fever, respiratory problems and a rash that starts on the face and spreads to the limbs. The fever occurs about 10 days after exposure. The rash appears within 14 days. An infected individual is contagious four days prior to onset of rash through four days after, the CDC says.

There is no cure, only supportive care. Some infected people may suffer severe complications, such as pneumonia and encephalitis. For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die.

The take-home message: Everyone should get vaccinated unless there is an underlying medical reason not to be.

Mayer points out, "Serious adverse events associated from vaccination are rare, and getting vaccinated is much safer than infection with measles."