As of the year 2000, measles was considered eliminated from the United States, but recent reports have caused alarm as New York State faces one of the worst outbreaks since 1990.
Due to the absence of the virus in the U.S., it is likely that the disease was brought in by an unvaccinated traveler. The virus spreads easily and rapidly in hotspots where unvaccinated groups of people exempt themselves from receiving the vaccine. Individuals most commonly reject the vaccine because of either personal or religious reasons. Affecting both children and adults, almost all of those infected in the outbreak were unvaccinated or only received one dose of the two-dose vaccine.
What is Measles?
Medically referred to as Rubeola, measles is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by a virus.
What are the Symptoms of Measles?
The measles virus has an average incubation period of 10 days. Initially, you will experience flu-like symptoms such as cough, fever, runny nose, and swollen lymph nodes. As the infection progresses, you will develop small white spots on your mouth and throat (Koplik spots). Approximately 3-5 days after your initial symptoms, a red rash will appear on your face and continue to extend downward towards your neck, arms, and legs.
How is Measles Transmitted?
The transmissible period begins four days before the appearance of the red rash and continues four days after the initial appearance of the rash.
The virus is primarily transmitted through aerosolized droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can remain active in the air and on objects or surfaces for up to 2 hours without a human host.
Who does Measles Affect?
According to the CDC, 90% of people who come in contact with the measles virus, and are not vaccinated or have a weak immune system, will become infected.
If you have come into contact or think you may have measles, contact a healthcare professional immediately. Take precautionary measures to lessen the chance of spreading the measles virus.
Preventing the Spread of Measles
Cover your mouth
Cough or sneeze into a tissue and dispose of it right away. If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your elbow to prevent the spread of aerosolized droplets.
If you are Sick, Stay Home
Prevent the spread of measles or any other illness by staying home from work or school when you are experiencing symptoms.
There is currently no available treatment for measles. Use the following best practices to avoid getting the measles virus.
How to Avoid Getting Measles
The best way to protect yourself from the measles virus is through the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The two-dose vaccine is typically given to children when they are between 12-15 months and 4-6 years old, respectively. It provides lifelong protection.
The vaccine is 97% effective against the virus, leaving only a small chance that, if exposed, the virus will affect you.
Should adults get the measles vaccine?
It is safe and recommended that adults who were not vaccinated as a child, get at least one dose. The CDC recommends that high-risk individuals such as students and frequent travelers receive two doses.
Wash Your Hands
Hand hygiene is one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of illness and to avoid getting sick. Wash your hands carefully and frequently. Scrub your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before rinsing with running water.
If you are in an area with limited access to soap and running water, hand sanitizers can play an integral role in hand hygiene. Use an antibacterial hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol, to kill and prevent the spread of germs.
Do Not Touch Your Eyes, Nose, or Mouth
Refrain from touching your eyes, nose, or mouth before washing your hands. The virus can linger on high-touch point surfaces for up to two hours, so if you touch a doorknob or handle and then your face, you are greatly increasing your odds of infection.
All high touch point surfaces or areas where the measles virus may be present should be cleaned and disinfected as soon as possible.
Cleaning and Disinfecting to Prevent the Spread of Measles
The measles virus is an enveloped virus, meaning that it is contained by a lipid membrane. Enveloped viruses are highly susceptible to break down when coming in contact with cleaners and disinfectants.
Contamination of surfaces is likely due to the release of droplets every time the infected individual coughs or sneezes. For disinfectants to prove effective, the surface must first be cleaned.
Use a multi-purpose surface cleaner or cleaner/disinfectant to wipe down and remove any visible mucus or soil.
Apply a disinfectant to the area. When selecting a disinfectant, make sure that it has an EPA registered kill claim effective against enveloped viruses like the flu.
Tip: Since measles had not been a prevalent health issue in the United States for several years, many disinfectants will not have a stated kill claim against measles.
Enveloped viruses are much easier to kill than non-enveloped viruses, so any disinfectant that has an influenza or flu claim will be effective against measles. Adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines (or the product label) for the recommended wet dwell time for disinfection.
When cleaning and disinfecting make sure to get all the high touch point surfaces such as doorknobs, railings, phones, keyboards, desks, and table tops.
Risk and frequency of outbreak greatly increase in areas of unvaccinated groups. Always exercise preventative measures such as hand hygiene to lessen your likelihood of infection. Make it a priority to protect you and your facility from a measles outbreak.