Health Officials Warn of Measles Outbreak as Numbers Rise

By: Alex Trent | Published: Jan 21, 2024

Officials for the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) recently confirmed a case of measles from a traveler in Northern Virginia.

This confirmation caused the department to issue a statement to inform the public of the risk of exposure. These officials are diligently working to contact potentially exposed travelers and investigate further to see if there has been any significant transmission. Measles can be a deadly illness and is highly contagious.

Investigation in Two Airports

Health officials have turned their investigation to two airports located in D.C. These airports are Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Dulles International Airport.

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The VDH is warning travelers who were at Dulles on Jan. 3, 2024, and Ronald Reagan Washington on Jan. 4, 2024. Their goal in contacting these travelers is to figure out who is likely to have been exposed and who they may have come into contact with.

Initial Point of Contact

The health investigators determined that the traveler who contracted measles had just returned from an international trip.

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Anyone who was in the main terminal of Dulles Airport between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Jan. 3 should reach out to the VDH and their health care provider. Travelers who were in the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport at Terminal A between 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. should also take these same steps.

Measles is Very Contagious

What makes measles such a worry to health officials is how easily it can spread between people. A person needs to notice the infection early and isolate themselves as soon as possible.

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Measles is an airborne virus that is transmitted when someone sneezes, talks, coughs, or exhales air from their lungs in any significant way. The measles virus stays active while particles exist in the air, and it can live on surfaces for up to two hours, according to the World Health Organization.

Symptoms of the Virus

Measles often causes victims to develop a distinct rash that looks like spots forming on the skin.

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It can also cause fever, coughing, runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing. White spots may also form on the inside of an infected person’s mouth. For severe cases, people can be hospitalized for further complications. Someone can develop pneumonia or swelling of the brain. These complications are serious and may cause death in infected individuals.

Affected Travelers Should Watch for Symptoms Until Jan. 25

Measles has an incubation period between 10 and 14 days before symptoms are even noticeable. For this reason, Virginia health officials are warning people to be vigilant.

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Health officials warned “anyone who was exposed and is at risk of developing measles to watch for symptoms until Jan. 25, 2024.” They recommend that anyone who notices measles symptoms should immediately isolate themselves and stay home to prevent the virus from spreading.


Confirmed Case in New Jersey

A resident of Camden County, New Jersey, was reported to have contracted measles in January 2024.

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Camden County Health Officier Paschal Nwako is taking the case seriously. “Given the serious consequences of measles and the ease with which it can be spread, we will be engaged in a large investigative effort centered on locating and ensuring the immune status of those individuals who may have been in contact with this patient,” Nwako said in a statement.


Over 20 People Potentially Exposed in Delaware

An incident at the end of December 2023 led health officials to conclude that 20 to 30 people were exposed at a hospital in Delaware.

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The Delaware Department of Health determined that these people encountered an infected individual at a children’s hospital on Dec. 29, 2023. Although the person was not actively showing symptoms, they were still capable of transmitting the virus to those they came into contact with.


Risk to the Public

Because measles is easily transmitted, it is critical for potentially infected individuals to take these warnings seriously. Anyone who has not gotten measles before or received a proper vaccination is at risk.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 5 unvaccinated people are hospitalized from contracting measles. Serious complications become more common for adults older than 20 years of age, pregnant women, and anyone with a compromised immune system.


Danger to Children

One group that is most at risk for a measles infection is children younger than 5 years old. Young children infected with measles die at a rate of around 1 out of 1,000.

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The most common cause of death for children who contract measles is pneumonia. The infection can be caused by just the virus, or by secondary infection. The CDC estimates that 5% of children get pneumonia along with measles.


Pregnancy Complications

People who contract the virus during pregnancy are at a higher risk for miscarriage and premature birth.

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You can significantly reduce these risks by getting properly vaccinated beforehand. Unfortunately, if a woman is already pregnant, experts do not recommend getting the vaccine until after the delivery of their baby. While not all vaccines are dangerous for a developing child, the vaccine for measles, called the MMR vaccine, is.


Measles Cases Are Rising

The WHO and CDC reported a significant rise in measles cases in 2022, which follows a general trend of rising cases in recent years (via Reuters).

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Experts at the WHO have posited that this dangerous reemergence of the virus is due to the consequences of the pandemic. During that time, people were less likely to stay up to date on their vaccinations for measles, allowing the virus a respite from eradication.