While no cases of measles have been recorded in Arkansas so far, residents can expect the illness to reach the state eventually. In a telebriefing yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a total of 704 cases of measles in 22 different states. According to the CDC, three bordering states: Missouri, Tennessee and Texas have reported cases.
Dr. Gary Wheeler, Chief Medical Officer for the Arkansas Department of Health, says the upcoming travel season could put some Arkansans at risk.
"It absolutely just requires somebody to go on a summer vacation either to one of the areas within the United States like Oregon or Washington state or to one of the countries overseas that’s experiencing measles," Wheeler said. The most effective way to prevent against measles is to get the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. However, some may need to get a booster dose, even if they have already been vaccinated.
"That’s really people who primarily are getting ready to travel internationally or are around people who have immune problems or they work as a health care worker," Wheeler said. Anyone travelling to "high-risk" areas where outbreaks are documented should also consider getting an extra MMR vaccine.
"Making sure your immunization status is up to date is the single most important thing you can do to prevent acquisition of measles," Wheeler said. However, if someone does think they have contracted measles, the Health Department recommends a few steps. First is to notify their health care provider to make sure that they do have measles.
"Just having a rash is inadequate to make me think that you might have measles because there are so many other things that cause rashes. You could have drug reactions, you could have other viruses etcetera," Wheeler said. According to Wheeler, a measles rash starts at the head and neck and then moves to the torso before moving to the arms and legs.
If symptoms do match a possible measles diagnosis, Wheeler says the patient should call ahead to their health care provider before heading to a doctor’s office or clinic. Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, medical director for immunization at the state Health Department, says patients should not enter a health care provider's office or clinic unannounced.
"They don’t want [the patient] to go into the waiting room and potentially expose everyone to the measles," Dillaha said. In addition to notifying their health care provider, the Health Department also wants to know about any potential measles diagnosis.
"If we have a case of measles, we need to immediately leap into action to identify the contacts of the person with measles so we can prevent further spread," Wheeler said. According to Wheeler, the Health Department is prepared for any outbreak of vaccine-preventable diseases.
"We always have a battery of personnel who are already placed around the state who would be deployed specifically to any area where there might be a measles case, where we would go to a school or go to a facility if there had been an exposure there," Wheeler said. If someone is unsure of the measles vaccination status of themselves or their children, Wheeler says their health care provider can look up immunization records on the state registry. If someone is behind on their vaccinations, there are a couple of ways to catch up.
"The provider’s office may provide measles, mumps, rubella vaccines. If they don’t, the public health department’s do and then in some cases pharmacies may be able to provide that service," Wheeler said.