Silver Spring, MD – Health officials have confirmed a case of measles in a Montgomery County resident who recently traveled internationally, as countries around the world grapple with outbreaks of the highly contagious viral infection.
The Maryland Department of Health said the unnamed patient tested positive for measles on Thursday. Officials declined to disclose where the individual had traveled abroad, citing privacy reasons. However, they revealed the person visited several busy locations in the Washington D.C. suburbs while likely contagious.
Now, health authorities are scrambling to contain the spread by notifying the public about possible measles exposure sites in Montgomery County:
- Dulles International Airport’s international terminal – January 27 from 6 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
- Claridge House apartments in Silver Spring – January 27 from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.; January 27 from 6 p.m. to January 28 at 1 a.m.; January 29 from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.
- Suburban Hospital’s emergency department – January 27 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Anyone who was present at these locations during the specified periods should watch for symptoms for 21 days, officials warned. Early signs of measles include high fever, runny nose, cough, and red watery eyes, which are followed by a telltale rash.
“People who are not immune to measles should monitor for symptoms and avoid public settings if they develop,” said Dr. Howard Haft, Maryland’s Deputy Secretary for Public Health.
“It’s important to call your healthcare provider before going to a medical office or emergency department so precautions can be taken to prevent additional exposures.”
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases on Earth. The virus can linger in the air for up to two hours after an infected person leaves. Up to 90% of unvaccinated people exposed will get the disease.
The groups most vulnerable to severe complications include pregnant women, infants under 12 months, and immunocompromised individuals. Potential problems include ear infections, pneumonia, brain swelling, and even death in rare cases.
Vaccination Key to Preventing Spread
Health experts emphasize that widespread vaccination is critical to controlling measles and preventing outbreaks – especially given a spike in global cases recently.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed 23 measles cases across 11 states so far in 2024. Most involve unvaccinated children and travelers returning from other countries grappling with outbreaks.
Worldwide, reported cases rose by nearly 80% in the first two months of 2022 compared to 2021 – reversing years of progress. The African, Eastern Mediterranean, and European regions were hit hardest.
“The risk locally reflects global transmission patterns,” said Dr. Travis Gayles, Montgomery County’s Health Officer. “Vaccination remains the most effective way to protect you and your family against measles.”
The CDC recommends children receive two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine, starting with the first dose at 12 to 15 months and the second dose at 4 through 6 years. Adults may need a dose depending on factors like birth year and travel history.
Health officials believe high immunization rates in the U.S. continue to limit the impact of measles here. But pockets of unvaccinated individuals remain at heightened risk when cases are imported back home.
According to a statement from the Maryland Health Department, there was one case of measles identified in Maryland in 2023, and five reported in 2019. Meanwhile, Virginia reported a measles case last month also linked to international travel and Northern Virginia exposure sites.
With infectious diseases paying no attention to borders, officials emphasize collective community immunity provides the strongest firewall against measles regaining a foothold domestically. They urge all eligible residents to ensure they and their loved ones are up to date on immunizations.