Ongoing Measles Outbreaks: Important Information for Health Professionals

As you may know, there have been multiple outbreaks of measles in the U.S. recently. Measles is highly contagious and spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 9 of 10 people around them will also become infected if they are not protected. So far this year, there have been 465 cases in 19 states. This is the second-greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since measles was eliminated in 2000. The majority of measles cases are in New York City and New York state, occurring primarily among unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities and associated with travelers who brought measles back from Israel.

With the upcoming Passover holiday, which begins the evening of Friday, April 19 and ends the evening of Saturday, April 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) anticipates there may be more opportunities for measles to spread. Many people celebrating Passover do not stay at home. Families may be traveling to resorts and hotels or taking cruises for the holiday. Additionally, there will likely be an influx of international travelers before Passover, including many from Israel, where measles is circulating. Popular destinations for these international travelers include New York, New Jersey, Florida, Las Vegas, Arizona, and Washington, D.C.

The virus can cause serious health complications, such as pneumonia or encephalitis, and even death. Healthcare professionals should be vigilant about measles and do the following:

  • Ensure all patients are up to date on MMR vaccine.
  • Consider measles in patients presenting with febrile rash illness and clinically compatible measles symptoms (i.e., cough, runny nose, and conjunctivitis). Patients exposed to measles while traveling for Passover could begin to develop symptoms between late April through mid-May.
  • Ask patients about recent travel internationally or to domestic venues frequented by international travelers, as well as a history of measles exposures in their communities.
  • Promptly isolate patients with suspected measles to avoid disease spread and immediately report the suspect measles case to the health department.
  • Obtain specimens for testing from patients with suspected measles, including viral specimens for genotyping, which can help determine the source of the virus. Contact the local health department with questions about submitting specimens for testing.

CDC continues to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated on schedule with the MMR vaccine. People six months and older should be protected with the vaccine before leaving on international trips. For additional information and resources on measles, visit CDC’s measles website.

About Kim Rodgers

Kim Rodgers serves as a Communications Specialist at NACCHO. Her work includes promoting local health departments' best practices, as well as partner tools and resources, in infectious disease and preparedness through NACCHO's communications channels, storytelling, and outreach to various audiences.

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