Officials warn of measles exposure after a contagious person went through a busy Chicago airport

  • Officials are warning that people may have been exposed to measles when a contagious person landed at Chicago Midway International Airport last Friday.
  • The Illinois Department of Public Health said the passenger was unvaccinated and could have spread the virus to other unvaccinated people.
  • Measles can incubate in the body without symptoms for up to three weeks.
  • When they appear, symptoms can include coughing, rashes, and fever. A small number of cases are fatal.

Officials are warning about the risk of measles exposure after an infected person flew into Chicago Midway International Airport last Friday.

The Illinois Department of Public Health said on Thursday that people who were at the airport between 9 p.m. and midnight on February 22 might have been exposed to the measles virus.

The department said that because of the virus’ long incubation period, infected people may not experience symptoms until as late as March 20.

The virus spreads through the air, which can remain infectious for as long as two hours after an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms of measles include high fever, rashes, coughing, a runny nose, and red, watery eyes. There is no treatment, though doctors can prescribe medicine to lessen the symptoms.

In rare cases, measles can kill. A small percentage of people who get it – about one in 1,000 cases – develop encephalitis, or brain swelling, which can lead to long-term brain damage and death.

The statement from the Illinois health officials said: “Most people are vaccinated routinely in childhood and are not at high risk. Of most concern are people who have not been vaccinated.”

The passenger was arriving from countries where measles is more common and was “unvaccinated and infectious on that day,” the officials said. They did not specify the countries.

Read more:
Measles cases surged 30% last year due to ‘gaps’ in vaccine coverage, and experts say it’s ‘deeply concerning’

The officials said that the passenger went to Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital for treatment on Sunday and that people who were there at certain times may have also been exposed:

  • 11:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. on Sunday, specifically in the emergency department.
  • 4 to 6:15 p.m. on Sunday (no area of the hospital specified).
  • 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday (no area of the hospital specified).

“These are the only known public locations in Illinois where exposures occurred,” the officials said, adding that local health departments were notifying residents who may have been on the passenger’s flights and at risk.

The officials urged people who develop symptoms to call or email their healthcare provider before going to a hospital or clinic for treatment so arrangements can be made for evaluation “while also protecting other patients and medical staff from possible infection.”

“Individuals who think they have been exposed should check with their healthcare provider about protection through prior vaccination or the need for vaccination,” the officials said.

Measles rashCDCA rash caused by the measles virus.

Officials urged people to get vaccinated

“Measles is highly contagious. However, two doses of measles vaccine are about 97% effective in preventing measles,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in the statement.

Read more:
Passengers on 4 Southwest flights may have been infected with measles – here’s what the highly contagious virus does to your body

“We urge everyone to make sure they and their family members are up to date on measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine and all other age-appropriate immunizations, especially if you are travelling to other countries where measles is regularly found,” Ezike said.

“Getting vaccinated not only protects you; it protects others around you who are too young to get the vaccine or cannot receive it for medical reasons.”

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