Maricopa County Department of Public Health (and our Lab) confirmed a case of measles in an Arizona resident this week. Measles is one of the most communicable diseases there is (next to chicken pox). It’s a viral disease of the upper respiratory system that’s spread in the air via droplets. Measles starts with a fever and cough, eye irritation and a unique rash. The MMR vaccine introduced in the 1960s pretty much wiped out measles in the US. Around WW II the US had about 900,000 cases annually, but these days its usually less than 100 or so cases per year in the US.
When cases do show up, it’s usually among people that live overseas (in endemic areas) and visit the US or among US residents that travel overseas to areas with endemic measles (about 20 million people get measles globally every year).
The primary public health interventions are to identify contacts of cases and make sure that healthcare providers know exactly what to do when a patient presents with what could be measles, like implementing standard precautions and placing suspect cases in airborne precautions as soon as possible. If a patient calls a doctor and says that they’re sick and may have been exposed to measles we encourage the doctor to make sure that patients in the waiting room won’t be exposed and that all your staff are adequately vaccinated. Of course, the best intervention of all is to keep our vaccination rates up.