Doctors are warning that summertime — normally when the threat of some communicable disease risk subsides — could see a spike in the current measles outbreak, as increased vacation travel exposes more people to the highly contagious virus.
“When people move through airports, and not even stay very long, they contaminate the air in the airport hours after they leave,” said Dr. Brian Chow, an infectious disease physician at Tufts Medical Center. Measles germs can stay in the air for about two hours.
“Measles is extremely contagious, so any time where we have a person who is infected, who is traveling … they have the potential to infect others,” said Chow.
More than 1,000 cases of measles have been reported across 28 states this year as of early June — the biggest outbreak since 1992 — and one of the quickest ways to spread the disease is through travel, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease causes an itchy rash, fever and respiratory problems, and can be fatal.
AAA is predicting that as many as 100 million Americans will make family trips this year — with two-thirds of them traveling in the summer. Top destinations this year include Orlando theme parks and historical European sites. Only people who have not been vaccinated or had the disease before are at risk, Chow said. But measles can progress quickly in non-immunized people.
“While a child may wake up with a rash in the morning, in the evening they could be in a coma,” he said.
Fueling the current outbreak is the rise of parents in the U.S. who reject vaccination, experts say. The disease is usually brought into the United States by unvaccinated people who get infected in other countries.
Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said people who are immuno-compromised cannot be vaccinated.
“Of the summertime travelers, those are the kids I would worry about,” said Sax. “There’s no natural immunity in measles for someone who has never had it.”
Many children will also be congregating at summer camps in the upcoming months. Chow said that most camps require children to be vaccinated to attend, so there should be minimal concern for parents.
“I think there no reason why parents should take any special precautions if their children have already been vaccinated against measles,” said Chow.