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Health Officials On Alert After Measles Case Confirmed In Jefferson County

A person prepares a measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, which protects against 93-97 percent of measles cases. Health officials say a case has been reported in Jefferson County.
Matthew Lotz
U.S. Air Force

Health officials in Jefferson County are trying to find people who may have come in contact with a person there who has caught measles.

The person caught the virus after traveling, according to officials at the Jefferson County Health Department. The department is “working directly with the case to identify potential contacts and make arrangements for follow up immunizations and care if necessary,” officials said in a release.

Measles infects the respiratory system and can cause deafness, blindness and can even be fatal in some rare cases. People who contract the measles develop a distinctive red, splotchy rash over their bodies. There is no specific antiviral treatment or medicine for measles, but giving a person a vaccine soon after they’ve been infected may lessen symptoms.

Measles is one of the world’s most contagious viruses. Doctors say a person can catch it simply by walking into a room an infected person had been in two hours before.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared measles eliminated in the United States in 2000, thanks to widespread use of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine. Before scientists developed the vaccine, between 3 and 4 million people caught measles and 500 died from it each year in the U.S., according to the agency.

The virus is still common in other countries. Under-vaccinated communities can be at risk of an outbreak when someone contracts the virus while traveling and returns home.

In the Jefferson County case, the person contracted the disease while traveling out of state, the health department said. Health officials didn’t say where the person had traveled.

Measles cases are on the rise nationwide, as more parents choose to not vaccinate their children. A recent outbreak in Washington State has infected more than 70 people.

Washington is one of the states that allows parents to opt out of giving their children vaccines because of “personal beliefs.” Other states, including Missouri, have more stringent laws that allow for religious exemptions to vaccines.

Health officials didn’t specify if the person in Jefferson County was vaccinated. It’s possible — but very unlikely — for a person to contract the virus after they’ve been vaccinated, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @Petit_Smudge

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Sarah is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.