- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2019

Health officials are urging holiday travelers to ensure they are protected against measles amid numerous reports of possible exposure at airports and other public places.

In central Virginia, officials have announced that they are mounting a coordinated effort to identify people who might have been exposed last week at Richmond International Airport and a doctor’s office in Midlothian.

Anyone who visited the airport between 9 p.m. and 11:45 p.m. on Dec. 17 or HealthVisions MD between 12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Dec. 19 may have been exposed to measles.

The Virginia Department of Health estimates people could develop symptoms as late as Jan. 11, based on the dates of exposure.

Officials in Travis County, Texas, have confirmed its first measles case in 20 years, according to multiple reports. A person with measles might have exposed thousands to the airborne virus at various locations in the Austin area, including the airport, a grocery store and several restaurants.

“Measles is an acute, highly contagious viral disease. A small number of cases are capable of quickly producing epidemics,” said Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority and medical director for Austin Public Health. “The best way to protect yourself and your family against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases is by immunization.”

Health officials say children should receive their first dose of the measles vaccine between 12 and 15 months years old and a second dose between 4 to 6 years old.

The measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine is typically given at 12 months of age in the U.S. However, it is sometimes recommended for kids as young as 6 months who are traveling internationally or who could be infected during an outbreak.

Other metropolitan areas including Chicago, Los Angeles and Denver have reported measles exposure this holiday season.

The Chicago Department of Public Health said Sunday that a traveler with confirmed measles visited several locations in the city, including O’Hare International Airport, on Dec. 12 and 17. The traveler also might have exposed individuals who visited a Greek restaurant and Starbucks in Chicago.

Public health officials in Denver and Los Angeles issued warnings last week that three unvaccinated children could have exposed other travelers at the cities’ airports on Dec. 11.

The three children were hospitalized with measles in Colorado and had traveled from New Zealand to Los Angeles International Airport before arriving in Denver, according to The Denver Post.

This year, the U.S. experienced its worst measles outbreak in 27 years and barely maintained its elimination status in October. From Jan. 1 to Dec. 5, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 1,276 cases of measles in 31 states.

The World Health Organization reported this month that more than 140,000 people globally died from measles last year as cases surged amid “devastating outbreaks in all regions.” Most deaths were among children younger than 5 years old.

Measles is a highly contagious disease that spreads through coughing and sneezing. The virus can live in the air for hours and cause complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis (brain swelling).

Symptoms typically appear around 10 to 14 days after exposure to the measles virus and can include fever, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat and a skin rash.

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