In a follow-up to the measles investigation in Shelby County, Tennessee, health officials report four additional cases in the Memphis area that meets the case definition for measles, bringing the total to six.
“As a highly contagious and sometimes serious disease, measles infects approximately 20 million worldwide each year,” said Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “The good news is most people in the U.S. are protected from imported and sporadic cases by the safe and highly effective MMR vaccine; the worry is infants, people with weakened immune systems, and anyone who is not properly vaccinated and is therefore vulnerable. Since the first confirmed cases in Shelby County, expert public health staff members have worked long and hard to aggressively trace contacts, providing vaccine to the unvaccinated and doing other interventions to protect us and limit spread. Even so, this outbreak will likely get worse before it gets better and we appreciate the cooperation of the hundreds impacted so far.”
Upon confirmation of the first two cases of measles in Shelby County, public health staff members began the important work of ‘contact tracing,’ which involves identifying anyone who may have come in contact with patients diagnosed with measles.
“Contact tracing is our most important activity now, allowing us to quickly help those who may have been exposed to infections and to prevent others from becoming infected,” said SCHD Director Alisa Haushalter, DNP, RN. “We have contacted hospitals, physicians and neighboring counties to keep them updated on this evolving situation.”
Shelby County Health Department and TDH officials encourage all Tennesseans to have heightened awareness about measles and its symptoms. Measles usually starts with a fever and a cough, runny nose and red eyes. A rash of tiny red spots then breaks out a few days after the fever, starting at the head and spreads to the rest of the body. This rash can last for a week; the cough can last for several days more. One in three patients will develop ear infections, diarrhea or pneumonia. In some instances measles can cause brain damage and death.
The measles virus is highly contagious and can stay airborne or live on surfaces for up to two hours. People who have measles usually have fever a few days before the rash begins and are infectious to others up to four days before their rash starts through four days after their rash starts.
“If you or your child has fever and rash, it’s very important to call ahead to speak with your healthcare provider; do not go straight to the clinic without calling first,” said Kelly Moore, MD, MPH, Tennessee Immunization Program Director. “Your healthcare provider can arrange to see you in an area where other patients will not be exposed to possible infection. Tell him or her about any recent international travel, your exposure to others who have recently traveled internationally or if you have been in Shelby County in the past three weeks.”
SCHD and TDH both advise the best protection against measles is the measles-mumps-rubella, MMR, vaccine. MMR vaccine is safe and effective, and provides long-lasting protection against the measles virus. One dose protects about 19 of 20 people; two doses protect even more. People who have had the disease once are normally protected for life. Those who are in doubt about their immunization history and were born in 1957 or later should have a conversation with their healthcare provider about vaccine. Protecting yourself helps form a ‘measles barrier’ to prevent the spread of illness to those who are most vulnerable, including those who are too young to be immunized or those with compromised immune systems.