Passengers on 4 Southwest flights may have been infected with measles — here's what the highly contagious virus does to your body

Justin Sullivan / Getty ImagesSouthwest Airlines.
  • Passengers on four Southwest Airlines flights in Texas late last month may have been exposed to measles.
  • The airline says it is working with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to identify passengers who may have come in contact with the virus after a passenger was later diagnosed with it, ABC’s affiliate in Houston reported.
  • The virus can kill in rare instances, but vaccinations have reduced cases by more than 99% in the US since the 1960s, according to the CDC.

Passengers on four Southwest flights in Texas late last month may have been exposed to the measles virus.

The airline said those passengers might have shared a flight with someone who was later diagnosed with the highly contagious virus,ABC’s affiliate in Houston reported Thursday.

Southwest says it is working with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to find and contact all the passengers on the four flights that the person took, the ABC affiliate, KTRK-TV, reported.

According to the report, those flights were:

  • Flight 5 between Dallas and Houston on August 21
  • Flight 9 between Houston and Harlingen on August 21
  • Flight 665 between Harlingen and Houston on August 22
  • Flight 44 between Houston and Dallas on August 22

The sick passenger stayed in each airport for approximately an hour and didn’t visit any airport restaurants, KTRK-TV reported, citing the Houston Health Department.

The incident is one of a few recent examples of illnesses potentially being spread on planes. Earlier this week, 12 American Airlines passengers on two flights from Europe to Philadelphia fell ill with flu-like symptoms, and 11 Emirates passengers who flew from Dubai to New York were hospitalized with similar symptoms, the CDC said.

Measles is highly contagious – but it’s easily prevented with a vaccine

Measles is a highly contagious virus that spreads through the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs, according to the CDC.

Following an initial fever, an infected person may have a cough, a runny nose, and itchy, red eyes. After that, a rash of tiny red spots will break out – like chicken pox – and quickly cover the body.

The virus has a 21-day incubation period, meaning anyone who was on any of the four Southwest flights should monitor for symptoms through at least Tuesday.

The measles virus can kill in rare cases. 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.

Vaccinations have gone a long way in reducing the incidence of measles. The CDC recommends that all children between the ages of 12 months and 15 months receive an MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Two doses of the MMR vaccine is about 97% effective at preventing measles, according to the CDC.

The CDC says that before the introduction of the vaccine in 1963, about 3 million to 4 million people a year contracted measles in the US – of those, about 400 to 500 died and about 1,000 developed encephalitis. Since then, vaccines have reduced instances of measles by more than 99% in the US, according to the CDC, though it’s still prevalent in other parts of the world.

There’s no specific treatment, according to the Mayo Clinic, but doctors may prescribe fever reducers to reduce symptoms. For people who haven’t been vaccinated, some doctors recommend a post-exposure vaccine.

According to the CDC, there have been nine outbreaks of measles – which it defines as three or more linked cases -in the US so far in 2018. It says outbreaks can typically happen when a person who hasn’t been vaccinated travels abroad then spreads the virus to other unvaccinated people.

The CDC says there have been 124 reports of cases of measles in the US through August 11, already higher than the 2017 total of 118 reported cases.

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