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Measles Exposure on an Airplane

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

I know you have read previous blogs on immunizations.  I have re-iterated many times, that despite the perception of some, many vaccine preventable diseases have not been eradicated from the United States and some may just be a “plane ride away”.

This is now the issue with a recent case of measles that occurred  in an unimmunized woman from New Mexico who was returning from a trip. The woman developed an illness, later confirmed to be measles, as she returned from London and subsequently travelled through no less than 4 different airports in the United States.

The issue is that this one traveler, exposed many individuals on multiple airplane flights, as well as in 4 different airports.  As Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University stated, “the potential exposure of so many travelers in airport terminals is a cause for concern”.

While most Americans have been immunized against measles (with the MMR vaccine), there are still those who remain unimmunized either due to the fact that they are too young, or because they choose not to be vaccinated (as had this woman who developed the “index case” of measles).

Children do not receive their MMR vaccine until after their first birthday, and then receive a booster dose of MMR between the ages of 4–6 years. Therefore, a child who is less than 12 months of age, who may be up-to-date on all of their immunizations but is too young for MMR, may have been exposed to measles if they had been sitting within 5 airline rows of the woman who had undiagnosed measles.

The same holds true for infants who might have been next to the woman in a security line, or at a Starbucks, or in the newsstand as she passed through these 4 various airports. It is also possibly an exposure for anyone of any age, who has never been immunized against measles, or who has not had the disease (older individuals).

All of these exposures would have been accidental and never even noticed unless an exposed person subsequently develops measles. The incubation period for developing measles after an exposure is between 8-12 days, and measles will present with symptoms of fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, and a body rash.

So….here is just another example of the spread of an infectious disease.  This case involves travelers in airports from London, England, to Washington D.C., to Baltimore, to Denver, and ultimately to Albuquerque.  Now we need be alert for any further cases of measles in next several days and weeks.  Remember, measles is a respiratory virus, and it is spread via coughs and sneezes, and the virus may last in the air for up to 2 hours, without any one suspecting they are being exposed.

If your child has not been immunized, this is a good reminder, run don’t walk, and get that MMR.

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

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One Response to “Measles Exposure on an Airplane”

  1. Erin says:

    So theer is nothing we can do to protect our babies under one year from unvaccinated people that may have it?! Great, we are about to fly for five hours (each way) with our 9.5 month old whom is otherwise up-to-date with his immunizations.

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