Measles scare at Chicago’s O’Hare airport reminds us of vaccine importance


Measles scare at Chicago’s O’Hare airport reminds us of vaccine importance

For the second time in only a day apart, another case of someone arriving at the International terminal at Chicago’s O’Hare airport with a case of measles reminds us of why vaccinations are necessary.  Both instances were unrelated to each other but both did travel through the same airport with this highly contagious virus. The Illinois Department of Public Health stated that both patients upon arrival were infected and contagious with measles

Even though both incidences are minuscule as far as it only being two individuals with the virus, the problem is the measles virus can linger up to two hours in the air or on surfaces. Passengers on the inbound flight to O’Hare and others in the airport, who would have been in close contact with each passenger, could be at risk of contracting it.  This is of concern as not everyone is vaccinated against measles which could lead to spreading measles around the nation or wherever else they may travel.

In 2011, the US started experiencing an increase in measles cases related to the increase of measles in foreign countries being visited by US travelers.  When they return home back to the US is when it can be spread far and wide.

What is measles?

Measles is found throughout the world and is considered highly contagious.  It is spread by breathing in the measles virus which can be spread when a person coughs, sneezes, or talks.  Even just being in the same room with an infected person, puts everyone else in the room at risk.

The concern of measles is that it can carry a risk of death which is higher in adults and infants than for children.  Measles can cause life-threatening pneumonia and brain inflammation, along with middle-ear infection, and severe diarrhea.  During the first five months of 2011, 45 percent of US measles cases were in adults age 20 years and older.

Globally, measles continues to be endemic, resulting in 164,000 deaths each year. 

Symptoms of measles

Symptoms of measles include rash, high fever, runny nose, pink, watery eyes, coughing, diarrhea, and earache.  The average time between exposure to the measles virus and development of symptoms is usually 10 to 12 days but can range from as few as seven days to as many as 21 days.

Importance of measles vaccine

Being vaccinated against measles is the best way to protect you from contracting the virus.  Between 2008 and 2011, individuals who contracted measles were primarily those who were not vaccinated with the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine

We may assume that most victims of measles in today’s society are children.  This is not necessarily the case.  When there was an outbreak of measles in California back in 2015, out of the 92 confirmed cases in the state, 62 percent were adults over the age of 20.

As to why adults are often at a greater risk of contracting measles, has to do with the history of the vaccine. Measles vaccinations were first administered in 1963.  But at the time, it was only recommended for those who were born after 1957.  Before that date, measles were so common and so contagious, it was assumed anyone born before 1957 had been exposed to it and were thus immune.  But that was not totally true.  Today, some adults who were not vaccinated may not be immune to the virus.

Another factor is that when the measles shots first came out, there were different types – there was the version containing “live” virus, which is still used today, and the “killed” or inactivated virus.  The inactivated virus version was withdrawn in 1967 because it quickly lost its effectiveness over time.  The CDC recommends that people who were vaccinated prior to 1968 with either inactivated measles or a measles vaccine of unknown type should be revaccinated with at least one dose of live attenuated measles vaccine.

Any adult who is not sure of their vaccination status, can always be vaccinated again.  Discuss this with your healthcare provider – they can do a blood test to determine if any prior vaccination you may have had for measles are still active. If not, it is advisable to get an updated measles vaccination to protect yourself as much as possible.