Measles outbreak: What you need to know before flying

Measles : What you need to know before flying

This summer, travelers may be dealing with more than just crowded airports. The measles virus has impacted at least four U.S. airports so far this year, with reported exposures in California, New Jersey and most recently Texas. The outbreak is still growing dramatically, with 60 new cases reported across the U.S. for a total of 940 measles cases in 26 states.

The CDC tells us the measles virus lingers in the air for up to two hours, which is normal for most airborne viruses, but the attack rate is high. If you have the measles, you can infect up to 18 people on average. Compare that to the flu where most people infect one or two others.

Earlier this month, a case was discovered at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, one of the world's busiest airports. Texas health officials said last week that somebody contracted the virus overseas and brought it back to the U.S.

"General public is not at risk," said Texas's director of public health, Vinny Taneja. "Only those individuals who might have been at the airport at the time and don't have immunization against measles."

The CDC is urging travelers to get vaccinated, especially international travelers, who could be at greater risk. With travel notices in five countries, Dr. Nancy Messonnier with the CDC recommends fliers get their measles vaccine before flying.  

Dr. Kaylan Baban is chief wellness officer at George Washington University's School of Medicine and Health Sciences. She said that when exposure occurs, disease detectives are deployed to investigate, looking for traces of the virus left behind and tracking the sick individual's movements so that they can get information out to everyone who might be at risk. In short, time matters. 

"These are high-transit areas, we get a very high volume of people coming through from all over the world, it is a perfect place to have great swapping of bacteria and viruses," Baban said.

Baban showed us what millions of summer travelers can do to steer clear of the virus, offering familiar but useful advice: keep your hands clean.
 
"If you can carry a little bottle of Purell, or some sort of a hand sanitizer with you. Keep your hands washed if you are going to be touching areas like the kiosk to get your ticket," Baban said.
 
She points to security trays, seatback tray tables and arm rests as high-contact areas to be aware of.
 
Passenger Kaylin Attridge, a self-described germophobe, said she's taken it as far as wearing gloves and wiping down her area with sanitizers.   
 
"But we still get sick so its one of those things where I kind of say my prayers and hope for the best," Attridge said.

Symptoms often start with a high fever, cough, or runny nose. The CDC says two doses of the vaccine is 97 percent effective and one dose is 93 percent effective.

The CDC recommends babies between six and 11 months get one dose of the measles vaccine.  Children 12 months or older need at least two doses. Those doses should be given at least 28 days apart.