By Adaora Uzodi, MD, MPH | April 10, 2018
A European tourist visiting New Orleans from the United Kingdom has been diagnosed with Measles. The Louisiana Department of Health in a newsletter released April 9, 2018 reports that laboratory testing of all samples confirmed the diagnosis. The tourist reportedly arrived New Orleans late last week for an event and is currently hospitalized in a New Orleans hospital. Health Officials are conducting investigations into potentially-exposed persons.
Why is this a big deal?
Measles is one of the most contagious infections and is transmitted when a person with the infection coughs or sneezes. People with Measles are typically contagious from 4 days before the rash develops to 4 days after, so you may have been exposed without knowing it. If you are not protected by vaccination and are exposed, there is a 90% chance that you will develop Measles.
Measles is rare in the United States because of vaccination efforts and was declared eliminated in 2000. Louisiana State has not recorded a case in 10 years. When Measles occurs in the US, it is typically imported by a visitor from areas where Measles is still common. Unvaccinated persons in the US play an important role in propagating the spread.
Measles can cause serious complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, diarrhea and rarely, inflammation of the brain ( encephalitis) with permanent brain damage. Children below the age of 5 years or children with weakened immunity from cancer or HIV can be severely ill or die from Measles.
What are the symptoms of Measles?
It takes an average of 8- 12 days after one is exposed to develop symptoms of Measles. It may take as long as 21 days. The infection first begins with fever, runny nose, cough and pink eyes. These are followed by a distinctive rash that begins in the face and spreads downwards to the legs.
How is Measles treated?
There is no specific medication that effectively treats Measles. Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms e.g rest, fluids, fever-reducing medications. An antiviral called ribavirin is sometimes prescribed for children who are very ill but it is not clear that it makes a difference. Vitamin A is also given because this helps with healing and recovery.
How is Measles prevented?
Measles is a great example for why vaccination saves lives. The MMR vaccine given to children before school entry works very well . When the recommended 2 doses are given, it offers up to 99% protection so a fully vaccinated child almost never gets Measles.
-Please have your child updated on his/her MMR vaccine unless there are medical reasons why he/she cannot receive it
-Wash your hands frequently and avoid sharing personal items
-When coughing or sneezing, cover your nose or mouth with tissue or your elbow
-Children who are unvaccinated and are exposed to a person with Measles should receive the MMR vaccine immediately as this can offer protection up to 72 hours after the exposure. If your child cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons, discuss other options with your provider.
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image credit: CDC image library