Springfield hospitals prep for measles outbreak across the Ozarks

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3/KSPR) - Nationwide, health departments are putting out travel warnings ahead of summer vacation telling people to watch out for measles.

A child with symptoms of measles. (Source: Mayo Clinic)

While the Springfield-Greene County Health Department is not officially releasing their own travel warning, staff members want people across the Ozarks to realize this is a very serious issue. "This is a point where we want people to take measles seriously," said Kathryn Wall with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. "We have not had any cases of measles here in Greene County, but that doesn't mean that it's not a possibility."

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. Wall talked about why the virus is making a comeback. "It was at such low rates in the country that many considered it eliminated," Wall began. "In that same time frame we've seen vaccinations really wane and so in the past when we did have an imported case from travel it didn't go very far."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported there have been more than 700 confirmed cases of measles. This is the nation’s worst year for measles since 1994 and eight months still remain in 2019. There were 963 cases in 1994.

Measles starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat. Two or three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots called Koplik spots may appear inside the mouth. It’s followed by a rash that spreads over the body. Measles is highly contagious and spreads through coughing and sneezing. The virus can live up to two hours in the air. People are contagious four days before developing symptoms and four days after developing the rash.

Cindy Tucker, a Registered Nurse and Infection Prevention Specialist with Cox Health, said people need to be well-educated on the research supporting the measles vaccine. "We have to look at research, we have to look at CDC recommendations, and look at what the risk is truly," said Tucker.

The CDC recommends children get two doses of the measles vaccine. The first dose at 12 through 15 months of age and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age. That is one reason why children five or younger are at the highest risk for catching the virus. Seniors also can be at a heightened risk, but can get a booster shot if a doctor feels it's needed. For those who aren't sure if they ever received the vaccination, both Tucker and Wall encouraged people to check with their primary care physician.

Tucker said the Cox Health staff is prepared for measles to spread to the Ozarks, already practicing extra precautions when treating patients. "We do alter how we handle certain cases that come through the hospital and how we're going to test for that," began Tucker. "We're very careful about when we know somebody's coming to the facility, how we're going to isolate so we won't spread that to other people."

The 22 states that have reported cases to CDC are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, and Washington. The CDC has also released travel notices for Israel, Ukraine, Japan, Brazil, and the Philippines. For more about travel warnings and notices follow the link to the CDC website.