Traveler with Measles Passed Through Dulles and Reagan Airports
Health officials in Virginia are scrambling to contain a potential measles outbreak after a traveler with a confirmed case of measles passed through Washington Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport earlier this month.
According to a statement from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), the unidentified person had arrived on an international flight into Dulles Airport outside of Washington D.C. on January 10, 2024. The traveler then passed through Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia on January 11 during the airport’s busy morning travel period.
Due to measles being a highly contagious virus, health officials are urgently working to identify and notify individuals that may have been exposed at the airports or on flights.
VDH Epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake said in a press briefing, “We are taking this situation very seriously and working with airport authorities to inform the public on potential exposure dates and locations. Measles is one of the most contagious viruses in the world, so if you were at Dulles or Reagan airports on those dates and experience any measles symptoms, immediately call your doctor.”
Health Officials Scramble to Notify Those Exposed
Approximately 50,000 travelers pass through Dulles and 15,000 through Reagan airports daily. VDH is estimating thousands may have crossed paths with the infected individual inside airport terminals, on shuttles, or on flights.
Health officials have determined the window of exposure occurred on these specific dates, times and locations:
- January 10 from 5:30pm to 8:30pm – Main terminal baggage areas, east screening checkpoint, customs arrivals area
Reagan National Airport
- January 11 from 5:30am to 8:30am – Terminals B and C including TSA security checkpoints, baggage claims, main entrance areas
Additionally, two flights were confirmed that the traveler with measles flew on:
|Brussels Air Flight #812
|Dulles Int’l to Brussels Airport
|Lufthansa Flight #416
|Brussels Airport to Reagan National
VDH is contacting passengers that were seated in proximity to the infected traveler on these flights about potential exposure. They are asking flight passengers with measles symptoms to immediately self-isolate and phone their doctor or local health department.
Measles Symptoms and Prevention Information Released
Measles symptoms usually appear 10-12 days after exposure but can take as long as 21 days. Initial symptoms are high fever, runny nose, watery eyes and a cough. A distinct red blotchy rash then begins on the head and spreads down the body over 2-4 days.
“If anyone believes they may have been exposed and has a fever or rash, they should avoid contact with others and immediately phone their healthcare provider or local health department,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Remington Aguilar.
He emphasized that measles can be especially dangerous, even deadly, for babies, young children and those with weakened immune systems.
While no additional measles cases have been reported yet beyond the original infected traveler, Virginia health officials are preparing for more in the coming days and weeks.
Importantly, two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine are safe and about 97% effective at preventing measles. Health officials are advising anyone uncertain on their vaccination status to contact their doctor about getting the MMR shot.
International Travel Causing More Measles Spread
On Twitter, Infectious Disease Physician Dr. Krutika Kuppalli said the Virginia measles situation followed an “Alarming trend of measles cases directly tied to international travel” that she has observed.
Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 but has seen resurgences in recent years, often seeded by travelers from countries where measles remains more common. Europe in particular has dealt with large outbreaks, including over 70,000 cases across the continent in 2023.
Air travel has been an efficient global spreader of measles. A recent CDC analysis found that 90% of measles cases with a known source have originated international travelers. Among cases with a known source, 68% were imported from Europe.
Previous Reagan Measles Scare in 2022
This is not the first measles scare related to Virginia’s Reagan National Airport in recent years.
In April 2022, an infected passenger similarly passed through Reagan and the Pentagon City metro station outside Washington D.C., forcing health officials to notify thousands potentially exposed. No secondary cases ultimately resulted.
That previous incident and this current one highlight why health authorities emphasize maintaining high measles immunity rates through vaccination. Some areas like Northern Virginia and D.C do have higher overall immunization coverage.
But pockets of Vaccine hesitancy still leave communities vulnerable to spread upon measles introduction. Health experts will be monitoring in the coming weeks if this spotlighted issue results in any upticks in local vaccination rates.
For now, Virginia health teams are working urgently to identify and contain every possible case related to this international travel measles exposure event.
Their contact tracing efforts will be crucial if wider spread is to be prevented. As State Epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake explained, every additional case quickly multiplies exposure threats:
“If one infected person can lead thousands to become exposed in just two airport transits, imagine if secondary cases emerge and also travel through Virginia.“
The next two to three weeks will be critical in determining if this remains an isolated case or something more. Officials are preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.
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