A case of measles has been reported in Austin, Texas, for the first time in 20 years, prompting health officials to alert members of the public who may have been exposed to the highly contagious virus.
“It appears that this individual contracted this disease while traveling in Europe in late November to early December,” Dr. Mark Escott, interim head of Austin Public Health, said during a news conference Monday.
Escott told reporters that the patient became ill Dec. 14, and developed a rash Dec. 17. During that time frame, the person visited several Austin-area restaurants and a Target store.
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On Dec. 17, the patient boarded United Airlines Flight 790 to Chicago, and then another flight to Virginia.
The person is no longer contagious, health officials said, and the risk of contracting measles is extremely low among people who’ve been fully vaccinated.
But unvaccinated individuals are at risk. Measles is an airborne virus, and can remain in a room for up to two hours after an infected person was there. Unvaccinated people who are exposed to measles have a 90 percent chance of catching it.
Escott said that authorities at the local, state and federal levels are trying to contact people who may have been exposed to the patient during the infectious period.
Earlier this month, three children with measles passed through both Los Angeles International Airport and Denver International Airport, possibly exposing other travelers, health officials said.
Symptoms of measles usually include fever, cough, watery eyes and a red rash.
In the United States, 1,276 measles cases have been reported this year alone. That’s the highest number of cases in this country in nearly three decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s important to remember that measles can be a deadly disease,” Escott said. “We know that 1 to 3 per 1,000 will die from measles, and 1 out of every 4 to 5 will be hospitalized.”
In general, the CDC recommends two doses of the MMR vaccine, the first after a child’s first birthday, and the second between the ages of 4 and 6. Because international travelers are usually the source for measles outbreaks in the U.S., doctors say children traveling out of the country should get the vaccine ahead of schedule.