A case of measles in Fairbanks is the first confirmed occurrence of the highly contagious viral infection in the state in 15 years. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says a man who flew from Mongolia to Fairbanks on May 31 to work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks tested positive for the virus. He was at the university and numerous other locations around the city, including several stores, before he knew he had measles. The man was contagious through June 7 in Fairbanks.
State of Alaska Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin suspects the man contracted measles in Mongolia, where there’s a large ongoing outbreak of the disease that causes a telltale rash, fever, runny nose, red eyes, and in rare cases can lead to deadly pneumonia or encephalitis.
“The big question is what should people in Fairbanks be doing.”
Dr. McLaughlin says that depends on a few things. He says people born before 1957 are likely immune to measles because they were exposed to the actual virus prior to widespread immunization. He says many born after that date were likely immunized as children, protection that lasts a lifetime, but otherwise…
“If you are un-vaccinated, under-vaccinated or you’re not sure, our recommendation is to go to your health care provider and make sure you get vaccinated.”
McLaughlin says measles spreads easily through the air, and respiratory secretions, even up to two hours after an infected person has been in a room.
“Measles is one of the most contagious pathogens known. About 90 percent of people who are exposed to measles, who have not been vaccinated, or have not had the infection in the past, will get infected.”
McLaughlin says symptoms typically take a week to 3 weeks to appear after exposure. He adds that the virus can spread from an infected person 4 days before the rash starts, and 4 days after it ends. McLaughlin urges watching for symptoms and calling a health care provider if you suspect you have measles.
“Then your health care provider will give you instructions about what to do. What he or she will likely say is I want you to come to the clinic, drive to the clinic, and we will send a nurse out to escort you into the clinic, and we’ll avoid the waiting room, because we don’t want other people to be exposed.”
The state reports that the man who traveled to Fairbanks with measles was on a flight from Seattle that stopped in Seattle, but not Anchorage. Federal officials are contacting people who may have been exposed on airlines outside of Alaska.