Measles Infects Traveler at Airport Gate

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By Maggie Fox

A traveler got infected with measles by passing a sick baby at an airline gate, researchers reported Thursday.

Measles is the most infectious virus known and experts frequently point out it’s possible to catch it just by entering a room where a patient’s been within two hours. This case is a real-life example of it happening.

The Minnesota traveler was diagnosed last May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports in its weekly update on disease. Measles is a so-called reportable disease, and public health officials report all cases to one another and then try to track down anyone who’s been in contact with a patient.

“On May 5, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health contacted the Minnesota Department of Health to report a case of measles in a Minnesota resident aged 46 years … who was traveling in Massachusetts for business when a rash was observed,” Emily Banerjee of the Minnesota Department of Health and colleagues reported in the CDC’s weekly report.

"It most likely occurred in the gate area during the 46-minute interval between the arrival of the adult’s flight and the scheduled departure of the child’s flight."

Careful tracking showed the patient had traveled though Chicago in April and used the same gate to board a flight as was used by parents carrying a baby who was infected in India and who got sick on the flight home.

“Although transmission could have occurred anywhere in the airport where the child and the adult shared airspace, it most likely occurred in the gate area during the 46-minute interval between the arrival of the adult’s flight and the scheduled departure of the child’s flight,” Banerjee’s team reported.

“The airline confirmed that domestic flights board 30–45 minutes before departure, and families with children typically board first. The child’s family likely would have been preparing to board near the front of the gate area when the arriving adult exited his aircraft and passed through the area. Both cases were genotyped as D8 (endemic in India, where the child evidently acquired measles).”

The baby had received one measles vaccine but not the second dose. About 5 percent of children need two doses before they’re fully protected. The adult could not remember having ever been vaccinated.

The case shows just how easily measles spreads. A measles outbreak traced to Disneyland this past winter sickened 147 people in the U.S., including 131 in California. It sparked a national debate about when and whether to vaccinate children.

Public health officials say the virus is so easily transmitted and so dangerous that everyone should be fully vaccinated as soon as possible.

“Airport settings facilitate the mixing of persons from countries where measles is endemic around the world,” Banerjee’s team wrote.

“The infectiousness of measles is evident when con­sidering that transmission in this case occurred at a domestic terminal during a short period with brief contact.”