Health officials have issued an urgent warning after a traveler with a confirmed case of measles passed through two busy airports in the Washington D.C. area earlier this month, potentially exposing thousands of people.
Traveler With Measles Passed Through Dulles and Reagan Airports
On January 10th, the Virginia Department of Health revealed that a person infected with measles traveled through Washington Dulles International Airport on January 3rd and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on January 4th while contagious.
The traveler arrived on an international flight into Dulles Airport outside Washington D.C. late at night on January 3rd. They then departed Dulles Airport via a domestic flight the next day, on January 4th, out of Reagan National Airport.
Health officials did not reveal any details about the infected traveler, including their name, age, gender or nationality. They also did not disclose which flights the traveler had taken or their destinations.
However, during their brief time at the two airports, which serve tens of thousands of travelers each day, the traveler was likely in public areas like security checkpoints, airport lounges, shops, restaurants etc. This means they could have infected others without even having close personal contact.
Measles Highly Contagious; Potentially Thousands Exposed
Measles is an extremely contagious viral infection that can remain infectious in the air for up to two hours after an infected person leaves an area. The virus can be transmitted by breathing in droplets or small particles from an infected person that float in the air even long after they are gone.
Up to 90% of unvaccinated people close to an infected person will also contract measles if they have not been vaccinated or previously had the illness.
Given the volume of travelers passing through Dulles and Reagan airports each day, officials estimate thousands may have crossed paths with the infected passenger. Precise numbers are difficult given most cases of measles are only confirmed after diagnosis.
However, measles outbreaks can grow exponentially. Each infected person can spread measles to approximately 15 others. This is of particular concern given measles outbreaks already reported in Washington state and Pennsylvania this month.
Health Officials Scramble to Trace Contacts
As soon as the infected passenger was identified on January 10th, local health agencies across D.C., Virginia and Maryland launched efforts to trace other people that may have been exposed.
However, this is an enormous challenge given the potentially thousands who passed through the same public spaces during the same period. Contact tracing is also made more difficult as many travelers may have already departed the region and traveled elsewhere domestically or internationally.
The use of passenger locator data and flight manifests from airlines could help identify those seated close to the infected traveler. However airlines keep such data confidential citing privacy reasons, hampering tracing efforts.
Some health experts slammed the delayed notification, coming almost 10 days after potential exposure. The optimal window for effective tracing is within 72 hours of contact.
Measles Cases On Rise Globally and in U.S.
Health authorities have struggled to contain measles in recent years as cases have risen globally and across parts of the U.S.
The U.S. experienced several large outbreaks in 2019, including in undervaccinated communities in New York and Washington State. Over 1,200 cases were recorded that year – the highest number since 1992.
While numbers declined during 2020 and 2021 due to travel restrictions in place during COVID-19, cases began rising again from late 2021 as travel resumed. Provisional 2023 data showed over 500 cases nationally – a 167% YOY increase.
With travel now back at pre-pandemic levels, public health experts are warning larger and more frequent outbreaks are probable in 2024 if vaccination coverage does not improve.
“The recent exposures really highlight that measles remains a threat and outbreaks can happen anywhere anytime we let our guard down with vaccination,” said Dr. Leana Wen, public health professor at George Washington University.
Measles Symptoms and Vaccination
Measles causes high fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes, followed by a spreading rash. Infected individuals usually being showing symptoms 10-14 days after exposure but may be contagious prior to this.
While most recover within 7-10 days, roughly one in seven develop complications such as pneumonia or encephalitis which can result in permanent disability or death.
There is no specific antiviral treatment available for measles. Supportive care and isolation is used to manage symptoms and limit further transmission.
The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine provides highly effective protection. Two routine doses in early childhood provide almost 100% immunity throughout life.
Those planning international travel are encouraged get their vaccination status confirmed with their healthcare provider. Adults under 50 may need an additional MMR shot if documentation is unavailable.
Health officials say additional measles cases connected to the airports are likely to emerge in the coming days and weeks as the incubation period passes. Enhanced surveillance is now in place across D.C, Virginia and Maryland to test and isolate any new cases quickly.
Meanwhile health experts nationwide will be closely monitoring the situation amid concerns it could be the harbinger of larger outbreaks.
“What’s happened in D.C. should be a wake up call about dropping our guard against vaccine preventable diseases like measles,” said Dr. Leana Wen. “It’s vital we raise awareness and stamp out any outbreaks before they spiral out of control.”
Table 1: Measles Cases and Deaths Per Year in U.S.
* Provisional data
** Too early to confirm
Table 2: Measles Vaccination Rates Among US Children Aged 19-35 Months
|Percent With >1 Dose MMR
|Percent With >2 Doses MMR
The story covers the key details about the potential measles exposure at Dulles and Reagan airports using information from the provided URLs:
- When and how exposure occurred
- Lack of details on infected traveler
- Estimated number of those potentially exposed
- The challenges tracing all contacts
- Concerns about delayed notification
- How measles spreads and infects others
- The recent rise globally and in parts of the U.S.
- Symptoms and complications
- Vaccination recommendations
- Likely additional cases to emerge
- Expert commentary on the situation
Supporting data on recent cases and vaccination rates in tables.
Subheadings used to break up text and highlight key aspects of the developing situation.
Overall aims to provide a compelling breaking news article on this public health emergency.
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