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Saturday
Feb262011

Measles Outbreak: Tens of Thousands Exposed?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images (file)(WASHINGTON) -- Federal health officials are scrambling to prevent a massive measles outbreak after a young woman traveled through three airports this week with an active case of the highly contagious virus.

The 27-year-old woman, who tested positive for measles, departed the U.K. before traveling through airports in Washington, D.C., Denver and Albuquerque last Tuesday, exposing possibly tens of thousands of passengers to the disease.

"Public health authorities consider this a medical urgency, if not an emergency,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor and chair of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University. “They will do everything they can to track down everyone to see if they are indeed protected."

Because measles is transmitted through the air, health experts say passengers who traveled on the same planes as the woman, or passed through the same airports could have been exposed.

"Measles is the most communicable virus that we know and it can be transmitted not just person to person, but over considerable distances because it wafts in the air and then people can inhale it when they are some distance away," Schaffner said.

While the CDC is trying tracking down the passengers, airport officials are doing the same with employees.

In the U.S., only about 60 cases of measles are reported to the CDC each year. Health officials say children who never received an immunization or adults who declined to be immunized are at greatest risk.

"It’s a potentially devastating illness,” Schaffner said. “It still kills many children worldwide, so this is not a disease which we wish to reintroduce into the United States."

The measles can take 18 days to develop, so it may be a while before the scope of the exposure is fully recognizable.

The CDC says the woman who tested positive was not immunized because of her religion.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio