Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Regional health officials Monday released a list of locations where area residents may have been exposed to measles in an effort to determine if - or where - the contagious disease has spread.

“We now need to be alert,” said Dr. Ulder J. Tillman of the Montgomery County Health Department. “This is a time when we need to heighten our index of preparation.”

Dr. Pierre Vigilance, director of the D.C. Department of Health, said a D.C. man contracted the measles - a highly infectious disease characterized by a red skin rash - after traveling to India in March with his wife. The man and his wife, neither of whom had been vaccinated against the disease, moved through several jurisdictions while he was infectious.

Officials said the man had been treated and had recovered, but they did not say whether his wife was infected.

The couple’s case was unrelated to measles cases that have affected three adults and a child in Montgomery County since February. Three of those cases were traced to an unvaccinated person who is also thought to have returned from overseas with the disease.

Health officials confirmed that hundreds of people in Montgomery County, Arlington County and the District may have been exposed by the D.C. couple to measles at various locations from April 4 to April 10.

Health officials released a list of locations where the carriers they have identified had contact with the public. Officials say people who were at any of the locations during the dates and times they disclosed may have been exposed, and if they have not or do not know if they have been vaccinated they are encouraged to contact local health agencies.

Health officials could not give an estimate as to how many people in the region are not vaccinated against measles.

“People decide not to be vaccinated for several reasons,” said Dr. Vigilance. “That doesn’t matter to us. We want to prevent the spread of this disease and vaccination history is the most important thing,” he said.

Symptoms of measles include fevers, runny nose, small red spots with blue and white centers inside of the mouth, and a red rash that typically appears on the face and neck.

Dr. Reuben Varghese, director of the Arlington County Public Health division, warned that those who think they were exposed should contact health officials immediately, as symptoms can remain dormant for up to three weeks after infection.

“The disease can incubate for weeks, so we really don’t know for sure until you develop a rash,” he said.

Dr. Varghese said people who were born before 1957, who have received adequate vaccinations, or who have had a documented case of the measles are immune to the disease and should not be concerned if they think they were exposed.

The five cases in the D.C. area constitute the latest in a dramatic spike in cases across the country. From 2000 to 2007, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an average of 63 cases of measles. Last year, that number grew to over 140. So far this year, at least 20 cases of measles have been reported nationwide.

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