As the measles outbreak continues in the U.S., with more cases reported since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000, concern grows among public health officials, people who are immunocompromised and parents of young children. That’s because measles can cause very serious complications, especially in children under 5 years of age. These can include pneumonia, encephalitis and even death. Measles—also called rubeola—is caused by an extremely contagious, long-lasting virus which is spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The measles virus can live up to two hours after a person who has coughed or sneezed leaves the area.
According to the CDC, 22 states have reported cases of measles this year. The largest outbreaks are occurring in Rockland county, New York; Washington state; New Jersey; Butte County, California; and Michigan. The infections were initially acquired as a result of travel abroad but have spread in the U.S. due to low immunization rates in certain communities. Additional states reporting cases include Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas. Most cases are affecting unvaccinated people younger than 19 years of age.
To ensure that you and your loved ones are unaffected by this outbreak, pay attention for initial symptoms of measles, which include:
- High fever
- Runny nose
- Red, watery eyes (conjunctivitis)
Additionally, three to five days after the start of symptoms, a rash breaks out, beginning as flat red spots on the face, hairline, and spreading downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs and feet. Smaller bumps also may appear on top of the flat red spots and become joined together as they spread. The fever may increase to as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit when the rash appears.
Infected people can spread measles to others between four days before and four days after the rash appears.
Because the measles virus is highly contagious, health departments and physicians are urging anyone who thinks they may be falling ill with measles to contact their primary care provider before appearing in an office, urgent care center or emergency room.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of prevention through the very effective measles vaccination,” said William Fried, M.D., Senior Director, Aetna Clinical Solutions.
There is no specific treatment for measles. Supportive care recommendations include rest, fluids and acetaminophen for fever. The good news is that a safe and effective vaccine is available to prevent measles. It is recommended that children receive the vaccine in two doses: the first between the ages of 12 and 15 months and the second between the ages of 4 and 6 years old. Adults born after 1956 without evidence of immunity should also receive at least one dose of the vaccine, preferably within 3 days of exposure. Catch-up vaccination for unvaccinated children and adolescents is 2 doses at least 4 weeks apart.
Note: The Aetna Infectious Disease Response Team (IDRT) with Corporate Security continues to monitor this outbreak.