Tennessee health officials are warning people who have not been vaccinated for the measles to do it as soon as possible, especially if they are traveling overseas.
The Tennessee Department of Health has confirmed five cases of measles in the state, a first in three years.
The department believes the virus reemerged because one person who traveled abroad became infected with the measles and then passed it on to at least four others he came in close contact with once he returned home.
Officials confirmed measles cases in Madison, Shelby, Gibson, Hamilton and Hardeman counties and said that number could rise as the health department investigates who the four other people infected had close contact with once they contracted the virus.
Doctors say the best way to prevent becoming ill is to properly immunize children.
“Parents are withholding the children from vaccination or stretching out the vaccinations sequenced so children remain susceptible for longer appears a time,” Vanderbilt Infectious Disease Expert Dr. William Schaffner said. “When measles is imported from an area where there’s plenty of measles, it can find the susceptible children and spread.”
Even adults who have not been vaccinated against the measles can do so and the vaccination will last for life because the virus has remained unchanged for decades, according to Dr. Schaffner.
“There is an old story of the measles vaccine and autism that’s false,” he said.
The measles is a highly contagious virus that had been eradicated in the United States in 2000, according to the CDC.
Tennessee health officials said the virus can stay airborne or live on surfaces for up to two hours. Recently infected people may not have any symptoms of illness, but can transmit the virus for about five days before the typical rash appears.
Symptoms of measles usually appear within one to two weeks after exposure and may include a blotchy rash, runny nose, fever, aches, watery eyes and white spots in the mouth.
Nearly one in three patients will develop ear infections, diarrhea or pneumonia.
The CDC said foreign travelers who were not vaccinated and traveled to countries where measles is still prevalent have reintroduced the virus by passing it on to other non-vaccinated people in the U.S.
For most of the last decade, the nation was seeing only about 60 cases a year. But since 2010, the average has been nearly 160.
So far this year, the CDC reports 187 confirmed cases in 17 states including, Tennessee, Alabama, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey,New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Washington.
The infected person from Tennessee who traveled abroad is reportedly recovering.
There is no word on the other four people.
The health department has not reported any deaths tied to the virus.
At Vanderbilt’s Travel Clinic, Director Dr. Julie Reznicek told News 2 the measles is just one example of diseases American travelers can be exposed to when traveling abroad that no longer exist in the United States.
“A lot of people don’t realize they’re going to be exposed to diseases that we don’t see in the United States anymore,” She said. “We can provide vaccines they didn’t receive as a child or vaccines that meet the needs of a specific country, like Yellow Fever and Polio.”
The clinic is open to the public and located at 1301 Medical Center Drive, TVC Suite 2501. They can be reached by phone at 615-936-1174.
The Tennessee Department of Health also provides immunizations against measles at county health departments.