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Health officials on alert for measles cases

By Katie Demeria

Loudoun County health officials are warning Northern Virginia residents about a case of measles reported in the county, but Charles Devine, director of the Lord Fairfax Health District, said no cases have yet been detected in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

He does warn anyone who has not been vaccinated, though, including adults who were not vaccinated as children, to pay attention to their symptoms over the next several weeks, especially if they were in an exposed area.

"Measles is serious, and it is among the most easily spread from person to person," Devine said. "The virus can hang in the air for as long as two hours after the person with measles left."

That is why, Devine continued, Lord Fairfax Health District officials are "on a heightened awareness."

"It's not impossible that some residents in this district were there," he said.

An individual with the measles can start spreading the disease several days before he or she develops the initial symptoms, which are flu-like, Devine said.

The Loudoun County Health Department, along with the Fairfax County Health Department, are warning people who were in certain areas of Chantilly, including a restaurant, a pharmacy, and an urgent care center, between April 23-30 that they may have been exposed to measles.

According to a Loudoun County news release, an individual infected with measles may not show symptoms until May 22.

Luckily, Devine said, the rate of those who receive their measles vaccination in Virginia is higher than the national average: 94.3 percent of children received at least one dose in the commonwealth, versus 90.8 percent across the county.

The vaccine comes in two doses, he said. The first, which is administered between 12 and 15 months, provides 95 percent protection against measles. The second dose, given between 4 and 6 years, provides 99 percent protection.

But, Devine pointed out that a portion of the population does not receive the vaccine due to religious or other reasons. That is why even one case must be taken so seriously.

"Measles is so highly communicable and is very easily spread among under-immunized communities," he said. "We consider it a serious illness."

The tell-tale sign that measles has progressed is the illness's second stage. A rash develops on the face, spreading to the rest of the body.

Devine said anyone who thinks they may have been exposed and are not vaccinated should contact their primary care physician or emergency room before visiting the location. Health care staff can ensure the individual is taken into a room away from the waiting area, preventing other individuals from becoming exposed to measles.

"If you have received two doses [of the vaccine], there is essentially very, very little concern," Devine said. "But if you have chosen to not be vaccinated or not have your children vaccinated, the risk exists."

There is no treatment for measles itself, Devine said. Rather, physicians can help patients battle the symptoms while the body fights the illness.

"The death rate is something in the range of one to two deaths per 1,000 children who get measles," Devine said.

To see the exact locations in Loudoun and Fairfax counties where exposure may have been possible, visit www.loudoun.gov.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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