As reports of measles cases climb across the nation, San Mateo County Health officials are advising residents to exercise caution if they identify any symptoms of the viral disease.

With symptoms including fever, coughing, runny nose, “pink eye” and a rash that starts on the forehead and behind the ears and spreads downward to the rest of the body, measles is a highly contagious disease and in 2019 has infected one county resident and one international traveler coming through San Francisco International Airport, explained Dr. Catherine Sallenave, infectious diseases staff physician with San Mateo County Health.

The county logged one confirmed measles case in 2018 and none in 2016 and 2017, Sallenave said in an email, adding four measles cases were recorded in both 2014 and 2015.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, outbreaks of measles are currently ongoing in 2019 in jurisdictions in Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Washington and, in California, Santa Cruz and Butte counties. The number of measles cases reported in the United States as of April 4 is 465, already surpassing the 372 cases logged in 2018, according to the CDC’s most recent data.

A total of 17 measles cases have been reported in California in 2019 so far, with three in both Santa Clara and Placer counties, according to the California Department of Public Health’s most recent data. As of March 7, 21 confirmed measles cases were reported in the state in 2018, according to the department.

Though most patients recover from measles without complications, the disease can severely affect non-immune pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems, such as those with human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, or patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer, said Sallenave. She noted pregnant women who contract measles may be at risk for miscarriage or going into premature labor, and added measles has also been tied to a complication called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, a progressive, disabling and fatal disorder with symptoms that typically appear four to eight years after measles infection.

Highly contagious and capable of being transmitted through air, measles can linger in the air of a room for up to two hours after an infected person has left the area, explained Sallenave.

According to the CDC, measles outbreaks can occur after an increase in the number of travelers who get measles abroad and bring it to the United States or after the disease spreads in communities with pockets of unvaccinated individuals, among other reasons. Sallenave noted San Mateo County Health officials work with the CDC, which operates a quarantine station to screen international travelers at the San Francisco International Airport, and are often involved with communicable disease cases coming through the airport.

Health officials advise all children and non-immune adults be vaccinated against measles and to contact their doctors right away if one detects symptoms suggestive of measles after being in contact with a known case of measles, traveling internationally or through an international airport in the United States, interacting with foreign visitors or visiting a popular United States tourist attraction, said Sallenave.

If individuals believe they might have measles, officials advise they call their doctors first and do not come directly to their doctors’ offices or emergency rooms out of concern others could be exposed, explained Sallenave.

She said the single most important thing concerned residents can do is ensure their families are vaccinated against measles according to the CDC’s guidelines, and also recommended individuals wash their hands often and stay home when they are sick.

Visit cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules for more information on measles vaccination guidelines.

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