Louisiana state health officials are investigating a confirmed case of measles in New Orleans. The illness was confirmed through laboratory testing in a recent traveler from Europe to New Orleans.

Measles is a highly contagious viral illness that can spread rapidly amongst individuals who are unvaccinated.  In extreme cases, the illness can lead to hospitalization and even death.  The individual found to have measles is now under care in a New Orleans hospital.

The individual identified to have measles traveled to New Orleans late last week from the United Kingdom.  He became increasingly ill through the week and was admitted to the hospital over the weekend.  Doctors quickly recognized that the individual may have measles and sent samples to the Office of Public Health laboratory for testing. All samples have come back positive for measles.

The state Office of Public Health is working with the New Orleans City health department to identify and notify those who may have come into contact with this person and to implement measures to help prevent the spread of the virus.

"Measles is extremely rare in the U.S. because almost all children are vaccinated before they enter school. Nonetheless, we take measles very seriously and will take all steps to alert the public and give them the information to best protect themselves,” said Dr. Jimmy Guidry, state health officer. “Our epidemiologists are working to learn where the individual has traveled, and where he has visited since landing in New Orleans to try and determine if other people may have been exposed.”

Students in Louisiana are required to have two doses of the MMR vaccine -- and the documentation to prove it -- before entering elementary school. The result has been that almost all cases of measles in the U.S. have been diagnosed in people who have traveled here. In these cases, as well as the current case, the sick individuals had not been vaccinated for measles.

Since a virus causes measles, it is not treatable with antibiotics. However, the same hygiene practices that help prevent the spread of influenza and other contagious diseases can also help prevent the spread of measles.

"The best prevention is frequent hand washing throughout the day. Individuals who are sick should always sneeze or cough into tissues or your elbow help prevent the spread of many serious communicable diseases, including measles," Guidry added.


Measles Symptoms:

According to the CDC, the symptoms of measles generally appear about seven to 14 days after a person is infected.

Measles typically begins with high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. Two or three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots (Koplik spots) may appear inside the mouth of a patient.

Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash breaks out. It usually begins as flat red spots that appear on the face at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots. The spots may become joined together as they spread from the head to the rest of the body. When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104° Fahrenheit.

After a few days, the fever subsides and the rash fades.


Measles Facts:

  • The best protection and way to prevent measles is to have had two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, known as MMR. Two doses are about 97 percent effective against measles. If you are unsure of your vaccination records, check with your primary-care provider. Even a single dose of MMR up to 72 hours after exposure to someone with measles can prevent it or greatly reduce symptoms.
  • It can take anywhere from 10 to 21 days after a person comes in contact with someone with measles for that person to develop symptoms. These typically begin with a high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes, followed by a rash that typically spreads from the head to the rest of the body. In some cases, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth two to three days after the onset of symptoms. Common complications for measles include ear infections and diarrhea, seen in about 10 percent of patients.
  • A person is contagious four days before the appearance of rash and the four days after the onset of rash. The highly contagious virus spreads easily by coughing, sneezing or even being in the same room with an infected person.
    Because there is no cure, treatment is geared toward alleviating symptoms. Rest, pain and fever reducers, fluids, vitamin A supplements, and the use of a humidifier are often recommended.
  • Health authorities declared measles eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but it is still common in other parts of the world.
  • In addition to practicing good hand hygiene habits, avoid sharing drinks, food and utensils.

Anyone experiencing symptoms should stay home, isolate as much as possible and contact their primary care physician immediately.

Those in the New Orleans area with general questions about measles, can contact the New Orleans City Health Department by calling 3-1-1.

MMR vaccine is available at the New Orleans Parish Health Unit Delgado Clinic, located at 517 N. Rampart Street. The clinic is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Appointments are encouraged by calling 504-658-2540.

About the Louisiana Department of Health 

The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state residents. The Louisiana Department of Health includes the Office of Public Health, Office of Aging & Adult Services, Office of Behavioral Health, Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities, and Healthy Louisiana (Medicaid). To learn visit www.ldh.la.gov or follow us on TwitterFacebook, or our blog.