Georgia’s first confirmed measles case since 2020 has been reported in metro Atlanta, according to health officials. The measles-infected person recently traveled internationally and is believed to have been exposed overseas before returning to Georgia.
Measles Case Confirmed by Health Department
The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) announced on January 18th that lab testing had confirmed the state’s first measles case in over 3 years. The infected individual lives in metro Atlanta, as stated by DPH spokesperson Nancy Nydam:
“DPH has confirmed measles in a metro Atlanta resident who recently traveled internationally. This individual was infected overseas, and there is no evidence of secondary transmission in Georgia at this point.”
While no further transmission has yet occurred, health experts are concerned about the potential spread of measles given the extremely contagious nature of the virus.
Measles Highly Contagious Among Unvaccinated
Measles is caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family and normally spreads through coughing and sneezing. According to infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Mulligan, the virus can live for up to 2 hours on surfaces where respiratory droplets have landed.
“If other people breathe in these droplets or touch the infected surface and then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected with measles too.”
Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90% of unvaccinated people close to that person will also become infected if they are not already immune.
Metro Atlanta Has Pockets of Low Vaccination Rates
While overall childhood vaccination rates are fairly high in Georgia, some areas of metro Atlanta have concerningly low measles immunization coverage:
|% Fully Immunized at 24 months
Pediatrician Dr. Allison Webb commented on the vulnerability of these communities to measles re-establishment:
“Herd immunity for measles requires about 93-95% immunity to prevent major outbreaks. So while we’re glad most people are vaccinated against measles, these pockets with poor coverage remain at risk if measles gets introduced.”
Unvaccinated young children and immunocompromised individuals are of highest concern if the virus starts to spread locally.
Previous Measles Outbreaks in Georgia and Elsewhere
The U.S. dealt with several large multi-state measles outbreaks in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Georgia also saw periodic outbreaks during this time, before the widespread use of the 2-dose MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine schedule.
More recently in 2015, a traveler returning from overseas sparked an outbreak linked to a Georgia megachurch. According to the AJC:
The outbreak was centered around the Copperhill, Tenn., campus of Life Church of God, to which several Georgia church members traced their infections after attending events there in early June.
That year over 100 people fell ill across multiple states. Again in 2019, large nationwide measles outbreaks sickened over 1000 victims stemming from travelers returning with the infection. Now in 2024, metro Atlanta health agencies are working urgently to contain this new imported case before secondary spread potentially sets off another outbreak cycle.
Health Department Response Underway, Travel History Investigated
Upon confirmation of Georgia’s latest measles infection, public health teams immediately began contact tracing to identify potentially exposed individuals. The DPH is gathering details on the infected patient’s travel history and working to notify those who may have crossed paths with them during the contagious period.
According to DPH’s infectious disease head Dr. Daniel Brown:
“Anyone determined to be at risk of exposure will be contacted by public health. If concerned about measles exposure, contact your primary care doctor before going to any health facility to avoid potential transmission.”
DPH also stated that healthcare providers statewide have been alerted to be vigilant for suspicious rashes and fevers in their patients, given the heightened measles risk.
Measles Symptoms and Importance of Vaccination
Measles typically begins with a high fever, cough, runny nose, and red watery eyes which last about 4 days before the telltale rash erupts. The blotchy raised red rash normally starts on the face then spreads down the body. Symptoms often become increasingly severe before improving after about 1 week’s duration.
Complications from this highly infectious virus can be extremely serious however, including pneumonia, brain swelling, hospitalization, and even death in severe cases. Health officials strongly emphasize staying up to date on MMR vaccination to prevent contracting measles.
Outlook Depends on Containment Success
For now, Georgia health providers remain hopeful this single imported infection can be fully contained. However the extremely contagious nature of measles means that any isolated cases still pose wider community risk.
Prevention efforts now center on identifying and monitoring all potentially exposed individuals during the case’s contagious period. Health officials also aim to promote awareness about measles symptoms and the critical importance of vaccination – especially in communities with lower immunization coverage.
As metro Atlanta public health workers race to halt secondary measles transmission, the outcome rests on their capacity to decisively track and break potential chains of infection through rapid isolation and monitoring. Otherwise this single overseas-acquired case could quickly multiply into a widespread regional outbreak.
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