Public health officials are warning air passengers and others who passed through two major U.S. airports of a potential exposure to measles due to infected international travelers.
Airport authorities at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport have reported passengers that may have spread the measles virus to other people in the airport.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), anyone who visited O’Hare on the morning or afternoon of Wednesday, Jan. 10 and who has not had a measles vaccination may need to be tested after a passenger with a confirmed case of the highly contagious disease landed and boarded another flight.
The IDPH said the infected passenger was in the airport between 6:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. The passenger arrived on an international flight in Terminal 5 and departed on a domestic flight from Terminal 1.
“Of most of concern are people who have not been vaccinated. Individuals who think they have been exposed should check with their health care provider about protection through prior vaccination or the need for vaccination,” the IDPH said. Measles is spread through the air from an infected person who coughs or sneezes.
Anyone infected in that timeframe could develop symptoms as late as Jan. 31. Measles symptoms usually include rash, high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. Anyone who thinks they may be infected should call a health care provider first before going out in public and potentially exposing others. Health officials say that special arrangements can be made for patient evaluation while protecting others.
In young children and some adults, measles can cause serious, life-threatening complications, including encephalitis, a condition marked by swelling of the brain that could permanently diminish a child’s cognitive abilities. Pregnant women who contract measles may miscarry or give birth prematurely.
On Jan. 12, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDH) announced that passengers who were in Newark Liberty International Airport on Jan. 2 may have been exposed to measles.
A female college student returning to the U.S. from Mumbai, India, was confirmed to be infected with measles. The student arrived at Terminal C and departed for Indianapolis from a domestic terminal. The NJDH said that anyone who was in the airport between 6:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. could have been exposed.
Anyone infected on Jan. 2 could develop symptoms as late as Jan. 23, health officials said.
According to Newsweek, the vast majority of Americans are usually up to date on their vaccines but “some health care professionals are worried that the proportion may not be high enough in some areas to provide herd immunity, created when so many people in an area have been vaccinated that the disease can’t easily spread from person to person.”
The vast majority of people who contract and spread the disease are unvaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.