Measles: New York City officials issue health warning after Australian tourist leaves highly infectious virus trail

Kimberly Redmond
The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News

NEW YORK — New York health officials are warning the public about a possible exposure to measles after an Australian tourist was confirmed to have the disease while visiting parts of the state earlier this month.

This undated image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention an electron microscope image of a measles virus particle. Measles is considered one of the most infectious diseases known.

The tourist’s trip, which was between Feb. 16 and 21, included visits to New York City as well as some counties north of the city.

The travel itinerary, which was provided by the New York State Health Department, also included stops at popular tourist destinations like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

  • La Quinta Inn, 31 W. 71st Street, New York, NY, between February 16 and the morning of February 19, 2018.
  • Oasis Bible Tours at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th Avenue, New York, NY, the morning of February 16, and the evening of February 17, 2018.
  • Watchtower Educational Center, 100 Watchtower Drive, Patterson, NY, between 12:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. on February 19, 2018.
  • Best Western Hotel, 1324 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, from February 19 until 12:00 p.m. on February 20, 2018.
  • Comfort Inn & Suites Goshen – Middletown, 20 Hatfield Lane, Goshen, NY, from 4:30 p.m. on February 20 until 10:30 a.m. on February 21, 2018.
  • Excel Urgent Care, 1 Hatfield Lane, Goshen, NY, between 8:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. on February 21, 2018.

Measles, a highly contagious virus, can cause serious illness, and even death. Is New York likely to see an epidemic? No, state health officials are saying, noting that a majority of people have been vaccinated.

But it advises residents to double-check their health records to make sure they have received the proper dosage of the immunization against the measles.

Dr. Jeffrey Rabrich, medical director of Nyack Hospital’s emergency room, echoed state officials’ warning.

“We strongly suggest that everyone should get vaccinated and can refer them to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for recommendations,” Rabrich said on Monday.

Dr. Jennifer Park of NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley expanded on why even the slimmest risk of a measles outbreak triggers urgent public-health responses.

More:New study finds no link between measles vaccination, autism

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More:Measles vaccination rates too low in many schools

More:Measles: 5 things you need to know

“Basically, measles is one of the most contagious viruses that we can get,” she said, adding there is a heightened threat to infants too young for vaccines and those who were not immunized.

“If they are in the same room with someone infected with measles…they can get it pretty easily,” Park said.

Meanwhile, success against measles in the U.S., has had unintended consequences, such as removing it from health care workers' radar.

As of Monday, the state health department has not reported any additional cases of measles in New York. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers regarding the measles:

I was at New York City's Metropolitan Museum on Feb. 17. Am I going to get measles?
The CDC recommends two doses of the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccination, so if you’ve only had one, you should probably talk to your doctor about getting another for double protection.

Typically, the first dose should be given at 12-to 15-months old and the second dose between four and six years old, though people may also be vaccinated later in life, health officials said.

New York requires children to receive immunization against measles to enroll in school and daycare. College students have been required since 1990 to provide proof of an MMR vaccination also.

Groups that should strongly consider getting vaccinated: Children, students at colleges, those planning international travel, healthcare personnel and women planning to get pregnant.

Hold off on the shot if you’re sick right now or pregnant, though.

How does the virus spread?
According to the CDC, the virus can be transmitted for four days before and after a rash appears. The virus travels through the air and droplets can remain airborne for up to two hours.

What are the symptoms of infection?
Since symptoms of measles typically appear about 10 to 12 days after exposure, right now people without immunizations against the virus need to contact their doctor if they start to notice a fever, rash, cough, runny nose or watery eyes, officials said on Friday.

It’s not just a rash.
It can lead to ear infections, pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death. CDC estimates that prior to 1963, when the vaccine became available, between 3 million and 4 million people in the U.S. became infected annually. The infections led to 400 to 500 deaths, 48,000 hospitalizations and 4,000 cases of encephalitis (swelling of the brain), according to the World Health Organization.

With some opting out of the immunization, are the rest of us at a higher risk?
Some people refuse to get vaccinations for religious or medical reasons, while others believe it can lead to autism. If one person has not had the vaccine, they are generally protected by the fact that the majority of people are immunized. However, that could change if fewer people are immunized, according to the CDC.

About nine out of 10 kids in the U.S. receive their measles vaccines and the vaccine’s effectiveness rates are about 90 percent, the CDC says.

How do outbreaks happen?
They can occur anywhere there are pockets of people who are unvaccinated.

Measles is still common in parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Pacific. Europe just reported a quadrupling of measles cases last year, an outbreak that led to 35 pediatric deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The virus found its way into pockets of unvaccinated children across the continent from Great Britain to Romania, with 21,315 recorded cases, according to WHO.

In the U.S., there are generally fewer than 200 cases a year reported to health officials. This year, there’s been nine so far, according to the CDC.

Travelers with the virus continue to bring it into the U.S., which was the case in 2015 at Disneyland when dozens of people contracted the virus in an outbreak.

California state health officials warned non-immunized people to steer clear of the amusement park, which is located in Orange County, a part of the country popular for the anti-vaccine movement.

No source was identified, though the strain was identical to one that caused an outbreak the previous year in the Philippines, according to the CDC.