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Colorado confirms first measles case in 4 years after international traveler tests positive for the virus

Unvaccinated people who were at DIA on Dec. 13 and Children's Hospital in Aurora on Dec. 18 told to monitor for symptoms from highly contagious disease
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Posted at 5:20 PM, Dec 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-21 12:00:10-05

DENVER — State health officials on Wednesday said an international traveler who arrived to Colorado a week ago has tested positive for measles, the first confirmed case of the virus in the state since 2019.

The confirmed case – an adolescent whose vaccination status is unknown at this time – arrived at Denver International Airport on Dec. 13 and visited several counties. That individual has been in isolation since Monday, according to a spokesperson with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

Arapahoe County Public Health is leading the disease investigation alongside the state and several other local public health agencies, who are notifying people who may have been directly exposed to the adolescent to monitor for signs and symptoms of the disease.

People who were at Denver International Airport moving through Concourse A, bridge security, baggage claim and the passenger pick up area on Dec. 13 between 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. could have been exposed to the virus, according to the CDPHE.

The adolescent was also at Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Emergency Department at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora this past Monday between 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. The hospital is notifying health care providers, patients, and others who were in a similar area as the measles patient, state health officials said.

What is measles?

Measles is a highly contagious and serious infection that is spread through the air and can remain airborne for up to two hours.

Symptoms include a fever, cough, a runny nose, and red, watery eyes that typically begin seven to 14 days after exposure but may take up to 21 days to appear, according to the CDPHE. Those sick with the virus can develop a rash at the hairline that then spreads downward over the body. That rash usually begins two to four days after other symptoms, CDPHE officials said. A person with measles is contagious four days before and four days after the rash appears.

While most people recover within two or three weeks after contracting the virus, unvaccinated people run the risk of complications from the disease, including ear infections, seizures, pneumonia, brain damage and ultimately, death.

Vaccination is highly effective against measles, with two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine being approximately 97% effective at preventing measles infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People who have received the full series of the MMR shot don’t need another one after exposure to the virus, state health officials said.

Unvaccinated people exposed to the virus can get the MMR vaccine 72 hours after exposure (but before symptoms are present) to prevent an infection.

What to do if you have signs and symptoms of measles

If you or someone you know has been been exposed and are experiencing symptoms, the CDPHE advises you to immediately notify your health care provider by telephone and explain that you may have had a possible measles exposure and describe your symptoms.

You are advised to call a medical provider before physically showing up to minimize the chance of exposure to other people. If you do not have a health care provider, you are asked to call an urgent care center or emergency department. For additional information about measles, call the free help line CO-HELP at 303-389-1687 (toll free: 1-877-462-2911).

“Anyone who is experiencing symptoms of measles should stay home unless they need medical treatment,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy. “People with signs and symptoms of measles should also not go to childcare facilities, school, work, or other public places to avoid exposing others to this very serious and highly contagious disease.”

The last time Colorado reported cases of measles was December 2019, when three unvaccinated children arrived to Denver from a country with an ongoing measles outbreak.

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, meaning it is no longer constantly present in the country, though there is always a risk of small measles outbreaks when unvaccinated travelers come to the U.S. from countries that have not yet eliminated the disease.

Colorado confirms first measles case in 4 years after traveler tests positive

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