WASHINGTON — Despite measles cases reported this week in Loudoun County, Virginia, and earlier in Maryland and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the growing number of people being diagnosed with measles does not constitute a national outbreak.
“The number of reported cases in the U.S. in 2018 is similar to recent years and in expected range,” according to the CDC web page on Measles Cases and Outbreaks.
In its most recent tally, on Aug. 11, the number of 2018 measles cases, 124, is already higher than the 118 cases in all of 2017.
Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the Loudoun County Health Department, issued a warning Friday of a possible exposure to a person with measles at two locations this month.
Maryland and the District of Columbia have each reported one measles case in 2018.
“If somebody walks into a building, that whole building is considered at risk, not only for the period of time the person was there, but for an hour afterward, as well,” Goodfriend told WTOP.
Unlike influenza or a cold, which is spread by droplets, putting people up to 5 feet at risk, “Measles is aerosolized, meaning it gets into the air system,” said Goodfriend.
“If you were to cough into your sleeve, you’d see wetness. Those are droplets. They’re heavy and affected by gravity, so within 3-5 feet they hit the ground,” said Goodfriend. “An aerosol is something that just floats through the air — the virus itself is very light, and will be carried by the currents of the air.”
By getting into the air system, the measles virus, when present, puts far more people at potential risk.
Hypothetically, “If someone (with measles) is at Dulles Airport, everyone in that terminal is potentially considered at risk, because the virus can go anywhere the air can travel.”
Goodfriend said many people diagnosed with measles have traveled recently to countries where vaccination isn’t as common. With three local airports, the Washington national capital region is susceptible to travelers introducing disease after foreign travel.
“If someone has had measles in the past, they’re not at risk for getting measles again,” said Goodfriend. “If you’ve received at least one dose of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine in the past, your risk of being infected is very low.”
“We’re really concerned about people who have never been vaccinated,” said Goodfriend. “That may be people who chose not to get vaccinated, or people who may be too young to be vaccinated.”
Typically in the United States, children get their first MMR vaccination at one year old. Goodfriend said two doses are recommended for most people, with the second dose given before kindergarten.
According to the CDC, “Measles is a serious respiratory disease (in the lungs and breathing tubes) that cause a rash and fever. It is very contagious. In rare cases, it can be deadly.”
Measles starts with a fever. Other symptoms are cough, runny nose and red eyes, as well as a rash of tiny, red spots that start at the head and spread to the rest of the body.
“The challenge with measles is you can be contagious for up to 4 days before the rash starts,” said Goodfriend.
The potential exposure sites, according to the Loudoun County Department of Health:
- Inova Medical Center at 205 Hurst Road, Purcellville, Virginia, on Friday, Aug. 17, from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
- 2 Riverbend Building at 44084 Riverside Parkway, Lansdowne, Virginia, on Monday, Aug. 20, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
A person who visited those locations who hasn’t been vaccinated for measles is encouraged to call a doctor, Goodfriend said.
Based on the date of exposure, health officials have determined if you were infected with measles you could develop symptoms — generally a fever — as late as Sept. 10.