State health officials are warning that an unvaccinated Cobb County resident may have spread measles around Halloween and the start of November.
The Georgia Department of Public Health has confirmed one case of measles and believes the infected person may have exposed others between Oct. 31 and Nov. 6.
The health department is notifying those who may have been exposed to the disease and urging health care providers to be on the lookout for more patients with measles.
Measles is caused by a virus and is so contagious that it can stay in a room and infect new people up to two hours after an infected person has left, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and an infected person can begin spreading the disease up to four days before symptoms appear.
Measles starts with fever. Soon after, it causes a cough, runny nose and red eyes. Then a rash of tiny, red spots breaks out. It starts at the head and spreads to the rest of the body.
The illness can be serious in all ages, but the CDC says children under 5, adults over 20, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable to complications.
Measles complications can range from hearing loss to pneumonia, brain damage and a fatal disease of the nervous system that manifests years after the patient has been cured of measles.
Measles can be prevented with the MMR vaccine, which stands for measles, mumps and rubella, the three diseases the shot prevents. The vaccine is safe and effective. The CDC recommends children receive their first dose of MMR vaccine between 12 and 15 months of age and a second dose between 4 and 6 years old.
More than 95% of the people who receive a single dose of MMR will develop immunity to all three viruses. A second dose boosts immunity, typically enhancing protection to 98%.
Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, about 500,000 cases of measles were reported each year, though the CDC estimates between 3 and 4 million people actually contracted the illness per year. Among the reported cases, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 developed encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, from measles.
The U.S. declared measles eliminated in 2000, which means the disease is no longer constantly present. Since that year, the annual number of people reported to have measles ranged from a low of 37 people in 2004 to a high of 667 people in 2014, the CDC reports.
These isolated cases typically come from unvaccinated people who spend time abroad and return to the U.S. carrying the infection, and the illness can also spread to those who are too young to receive the vaccine or cannot get it for other medical reasons.
The state health department urges anyone with symptoms of measles to contact their health care provider immediately.
Because the disease can be so contagious, those with symptoms should not go to the doctor’s office, the hospital, or a public health clinic without first calling to let them know about their symptoms.
Health care providers who suspect measles in a patient are also urged to notify the public health department immediately.