After tourist is hospitalized with measles, officials try to trace his path through the city

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - State health officials in Louisiana have confirmed a case of measles in a tourist, and they're now are trying to trace his path through New Orleans to determine with whom he may have come into contact.

The illness was confirmed through laboratory testing in a recent traveler from Europe to the city.

"Measles is a highly contagious viral illness that can spread rapidly amongst individuals who are unvaccinated. In extreme cases, the illness can lead to hospitalization and even death.  The individual found to have measles is now under care in a New Orleans hospital," a press release from the Louisiana Department of Health said.

The patient came to New Orleans late last week. He became increasingly ill through the week and was admitted to the hospital over the weekend. Doctors quickly recognized that the individual may have measles and sent samples to the Office of Public Health laboratory for testing. All samples came back positive.

"We know that the individual came for a public event," said Dr. Parham Jaberi with the Health Department. "He, however, was not able to partake in all the activities as he was hospitalized over the weekend, so there were some public events that he has gathered. We are tracking all of those in terms of the taxi rides, the restaurants he may have visited."

State health officials are working to identify and notify those who may have come into contact with this person and to implement measures to help prevent the spread of the virus.

"Measles is extremely rare in the U.S. because almost all children are vaccinated before they enter school. Nonetheless, we take measles very seriously and will take all steps to alert the public and give them the information to best protect themselves," said Dr. Jimmy Guidry, state health officer. "Our epidemiologists are working to learn where the individual has traveled, and where he has visited since landing in New Orleans to try and determine if other people may have been exposed."

Students in Louisiana are required to have two doses of the MMR vaccine -- and the documentation to prove it -- before entering elementary school. The result has been that almost all cases of measles in the U.S. have been diagnosed in people who have traveled here.

"In Louisiana, about 95 percent of our children have the measles vaccine, and that's really good news," said New Orleans Health department Director Dr. Joseph Kanter. "Everyone should get the vaccine. What happened this weekend should serve as a reminder to folks that the measles vaccine is a really really important thing to do to keep people healthy."

Since a virus causes measles, it is not treatable with antibiotics. However, the same hygiene practices that help prevent the spread of influenza and other contagious diseases can also help prevent the spread of measles.

Measles Facts:

  • The best protection and way to prevent measles is to have had two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, known as MMR. Two doses are about 97 percent effective against measles. If you are unsure of your vaccination records, check with your primary-care provider. Even a single dose of MMR up to 72 hours after exposure to someone with measles can prevent it or greatly reduce symptoms.
  • It can take anywhere from 10 to 21 days after a person comes in contact with someone with measles for that person to develop symptoms. These typically begin with a high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes, followed by a rash that typically spreads from the head to the rest of the body. In some cases, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth two to three days after the onset of symptoms. Common complications for measles include ear infections and diarrhea, seen in about 10 percent of patients.
  • A person is contagious four days before the appearance of rash and the four days after the onset of rash. The highly contagious virus spreads easily by coughing, sneezing or even being in the same room with an infected person.
  • Because there is no cure, treatment is geared toward alleviating symptoms. Rest, pain and fever reducers, fluids, vitamin A supplements, and the use of a humidifier are often recommended.
  • Health authorities declared measles eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but it is still common in other parts of the world.
  • In addition to practicing good hand hygiene habits, avoid sharing drinks, food and utensils.