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Measles outbreak strikes East Coast

Posted Apr 22 2009 11:43pm

Did you see the Private Practice episode last week where the child returned from Switzerland with measles and then exposed an entire waiting room of young children and pregnant women? Sometimes art imitates life, and then life imitates art....

Several states are reporting measles outbreaks across the country this week, but particularly on the East Coast.

The following states are reporting confirmed cases of measles:
Iowa
Pennsylvania
Washington DC
Maryland
Virginia

Measles is a virus that cause a fever, cough, pink eye, and then a pretty characteristic rash of multiple raised red dots all over the body. The most serious complications are pneumonia, brain inflammation, and death. It's not a disease I'd wish on my worst enemy.

One tricky part of this infection is that people are contagious with it for a day or two before they feel sick and the classic rash may not show up until 3—5 days into the illness. So, measles infected people may walk around, unknowingly exposing others. The virus is spread in the air, through infected cough droplets, and can survive in the environment for a couple of hours after the infected person is gone.


Because of this exposure risk, county and state health departments are notifying residents of potential exposures with infected people here:
 www.fairfaxcounty.gov/hd/comdis/measles.htm and
www/dhmh.state.md.us/publ-rel/html/2009/joint042009.htm

The incubation period (time from exposure until illness) is about 1-2 weeks. So, if you think you were exposed, you have a couple of weeks to sweat it out. And, you may need to get a shot—see below for details.

As many of our readers already know, measles vaccine is usually given to children beginning at 1 year of age and a booster dose is given before starting kindergarten. The vaccine is extremely good at protecting against measles. In outbreak situations, it is recommended to give measles vaccine within 72 hours of exposure. In epidemics, measles vaccine can be given to babies as young as six months of age. We will keep you posted if any new recommendations come from the Centers for Disease Control.

NOTE: If you think you or your child has measles, do not just show up in your doctor's waiting room or local emergency room. Call someone first so precautions can be made to keep exposures to a minimum.

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