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May 23, 2024

Measles Case Confirmed in Colorado, Possible Exposures at Children’s Hospital and Denver Airport

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Dec 21, 2023

A case of measles has been confirmed in Colorado for the first time since 2019, raising concerns about vaccination rates and potential exposures in public places. The patient is an international traveler who arrived at Denver International Airport on December 11th before developing symptoms and testing positive for measles.

Patient Treated at Children’s Hospital Colorado

The patient with confirmed measles sought treatment at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora on December 14th. They were exhibiting typical signs and symptoms of measles, including high fever, cough, runny nose, and the characteristic red rash.

The patient was immediately isolated upon suspicion of having measles to prevent any further exposures. However, hundreds of staff members and patients may have been exposed in the emergency department and other areas of the hospital before isolation protocols were implemented.

Children’s Hospital is working closely with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to identify all possible exposures and notify those affected. The incubation period for measles ranges from 7-21 days, meaning more cases could potentially appear through early January.

Possible Measles Exposures at Children's Hospital Colorado

Location              | Date & Timeframe
----------------------|-------------------
Emergency Department | Dec 14, 6PM - 12AM
Laboratory            | Dec 14, 8PM - 12AM  
Radiology             | Dec 15, 8AM - 12PM

Infants, pregnant women, unvaccinated individuals, and those with compromised immune systems are at the highest risk of contracting measles. Parents who visited Children’s Hospital during the exposure window are advised to watch closely for symptoms.

Public Exposure at Denver International Airport

In addition to the hospital exposures, Denver International Airport (DIA) has also issued warnings about possible measles exposure. The patient with confirmed measles arrived on an international flight and spent time in multiple concourses and transportation areas on December 11th while likely contagious.

Anyone who passed through DIA’s public transportation services, baggage areas, or customs between 12PM-5PM that Sunday afternoon may have been exposed. Concourses A, B, and C also could have been affected during those hours.

Possible Measles Exposures at Denver International Airport

Location                            | Date & Timeframe  
------------------------------------|------------------
Public Transportation/Rail Services | Dec 11, 12PM - 5PM
Baggage Claim/Customs               | Dec 11, 12PM - 5PM   
Concourses A, B, C                  | Dec 11, 12PM - 5PM

DIA is working with Tri-County Health Department to inform passengers that may have crossed paths with the measles patient. Similar to Children’s Hospital, the airport exposures mean additional cases could materialize over the next 1-2 weeks.

First Confirmed Measles Case in Colorado Since 2019

This new case marks Colorado’s first confirmed measles infection in over four years. The previous instances were in 2019, when one case was connected to an outbreak in the Philippines and another occurred in an unvaccinated infant.

Prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963, the disease killed an estimated 400-500 people each year in the U.S. After vaccination campaigns brought measles to very low levels nationally by 2000, Colorado averaged just 2-3 cases per year throughout the early 2000s.

The return of measles after a nearly 4-year absence underscores dropping vaccination rates across parts of the state. According to Tri-County Health Department data, nearly a quarter of Colorado kindergarten students had non-medical exemptions from mandatory school vaccinations last year. Such families choose not to vaccinate due to religious, personal, or philosophical objections.

“Any time we have an imported case like this, it’s a reminder that there are pockets of under-vaccinated individuals that are vulnerable if measles gets introduced into the community,” said Dr. Bernadette Albanese, a Tri-County Health epidemiologist. “Measles is so contagious that high immunization rates are crucial to preventing it from spreading.”

While delivery of most routine immunizations plummeted early in the COVID-19 pandemic, uptake of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine never declined as sharply. Still, gaps in coverage coupled with waning immunity have left communities ripe for measles outbreaks once again.

Concerns Over Holiday Travel Exposures

There is heightened concern about this new measles case occurring in the middle of peak holiday travel season. Airports and other transit hubs pose an increased risk for transmission of the virus during busy travel periods.

The patient flew through DIA at the start of the two weeks encompassing Christmas and New Year’s that mark one of the airport’s busiest travel times each year. With thousands flocking through Colorado’s largest airport each day, health officials worry it may be impossible to track down every potential exposure.

Moreover, if any exposed DIA travelers have already continued journeying onward to visit family or vacation destinations, they could unknowingly be carrying measles to new parts of the country or world. One infected air passenger is all it might take to seed numerous outbreak clusters wherever they go.

“We’re doing our best to get the word out through the airline, social media, the media. But realistically with the volumes going through…I don’t think we can reach every single person,” said Michelle Barron, medical director of infection prevention at UCHealth.

Swift Action Urged to Contain Spread

To prevent this single measles case from sparking a wider outbreak, health agencies are imploring swift action on several fronts:

  • Awareness – Anyone possibly exposed, especially those showing symptoms, should contact their doctor immediately
  • Vaccination – Unvaccinated Coloradans should get the MMR shot now before potential exposures occur
  • Prevention – Extra precautions like masking indoors and avoiding big gatherings can reduce transmission risks

Additionally, travelers arriving to Colorado from other countries with endemic measles should verify they are up to date on immunizations. Those who develop measles-like rashes or fevers following international trips need to self-isolate while seeking urgent medical evaluation.

“We have very effective and safe vaccines that can prevent further measles transmission – not just protect those immunized but limit spread more broadly,” Dr. Albanese explained. “But that depends on high enough vaccination rates and rapid case identification plus isolation when measles penetrates our borders.”

With global mobility increasing opportunities for pathogens like measles to encroach upon previously safe locales, maintaining community protection hinges on combating vaccine hesitancy and under-immunization. Otherwise, Colorado risks forfeiting hard-won progress towards measles elimination since the early 2000s.

Next Steps and Outlook

For now, health officials are continuing contact tracing efforts related to known measles exposures while bracing for the possibility of additional cases. Any suspected infections must be reported immediately so quarantine procedures can be implemented limiting further spread.

CDPHE’s disease control team is also working closely with local public health agencies to facilitate free MMR vaccines access for anyone lacking immunity – especially in the greater Denver metro area. Easy vaccination access combined with community awareness represent the best tools for containing this measles case before Colorado confronts its first outbreak in years.

While existing spread is still minimal presently, the scenario contains ingredients ripe for a larger outbreak – an imported virulent case, pockets of susceptible individuals, and peak travel season allowing wider dissemination. Mitigating that worst-case outcome necessitates urgent, coordinated action between public health authorities and community members alike.

What happens next likely hinges on how swiftly exposed persons are informed, how quickly links in chains of transmission are traced, and how aggressively health agencies can mobilize vaccination resources protecting vulnerable residents across Colorado. A swift, muscular response offers cautious optimism the threat may be neutralized. But a sluggish or disjointed one risks allowing measles to gain an irreversible foothold, leaving Colorado to contend with a dangerous outbreak just in time for the holidays.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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