As Measles Outbreak Spreads, Travelers at Especially High Risk

More than 700 cases of the disease have been reported across the U.S. alone so far in 2019.

Driven by major outbreaks, more than 700 U.S. measles cases have already been confirmed for 2019, the highest level since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000.

The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say 704 people across 22 states have been diagnosed with the virus already this year. States with reported cases include Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee and Washington. Most domestic cases have stemmed from New York.

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Number of U.S. measles cases reported by year Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

And the concern isn't just limited to the U.S. Each year, an estimated 10 million people around the world contract measles and about 110,000 die from it, according to the CDC.

A cruise ship, the Freewinds, owned by the Church of Scientology and carrying nearly 300 passengers, was quarantined in St. Lucia on Monday, after officials confirmed a crew member had contracted measles. As of Wednesday, the vessel remained put, according to NBC News, with no set plan to re-embark. The infected female crew member continues to be held in isolation on the ship. 

In a statement, Dr. Merlene Federicks-James, St. Lucia’s chief medical officer, said it was “likely that other persons on the boat may have been exposed” given the highly contagious nature of the disease.

Measles spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Common symptoms include fever, rash, runny nose and red eyes, though the disease can cause serious health complications and, in some cases, death.

 

 

The condition is so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of the people in proximity to that person who are not immune will also become infected, the CDC reports. An infected person can also spread measles to others four days before a rash is even detectable.  

According to reports, travelers are especially at risk for contracting measles. Each year, unvaccinated people get infected while in other countries, thus carrying the disease back into the country and spreading it to others. The majority of measles cases brought into the U.S. come from unvaccinated U.S. residents.

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Preventative measures to take before traveling, as outlined by the CDC Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC urges travelers to ensure they are protected before embarking on trips, especially those heading for destinations overseas. Measles can be prevented with the MMR vaccine. Two doses of the antidote provide 97 percent protection. Here are more vital details for travelers to consider before leaving the U.S.:

  • Infants 6-11 months of age should receive one dose of MMR.
  • Children 12 months and older should receive two doses separated by at least 28 days.
  • Teenagers and adults who do not have evidence of immunity should get two doses separated by at least 28 days.
  • Infants who get one dose of MMR vaccine before their first birthday should get two more doses, according to the routinely recommended schedule.

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Preventative measures to take after traveling, as outlined by the CDC Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Don't know if you've been vaccinated? The CDC strongly urges people who cannot show that they were vaccinated as children and who have never had measles to get vaccinated. A blood test can be administered to check for immunity to the virus. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following points are important to protect vulnerable individuals who have been exposed to the virus.

  • Post-exposure vaccination. Nonimmunized people, including infants, might be given the measles vaccination within 72 hours of exposure to the measles virus to provide protection against the disease. If measles still develops, the illness usually has milder symptoms and lasts for a shorter time.
  • Immune serum globulin. Pregnant women, infants and people with weakened immune systems who are exposed to the virus might receive an injection of proteins (antibodies) called immune serum globulin. When given within six days of exposure to the virus, these antibodies can prevent measles or make symptoms less severe.