Travelers passing through Los Angeles International Airport and Denver International Airport last week may have been exposed to measles from fellow passengers infected with the highly contagious disease, health officials said.
Three infected travelers from outside Los Angeles County were at LAX Terminal 4 and Terminal 5 on Wednesday between 6:50 a.m. and noon, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said. In Colorado, three unvaccinated children who had visited a country with a measles outbreak passed through the Denver airport on Wednesday between 1:15 p.m. and 5:45 p.m., the Tri-County Health Department said in a statement.
There’s no known ongoing risk to people who passed through either airport. But because the measles virus is so contagious, health officials advised those whose travels overlapped with the infected people to check their immunization records and to watch for signs of the illness, which can take three weeks to develop. A doctor should be consulted in the case of infants, those who are pregnant, have a weakened immune system or are unimmunized.
“For those who are not protected, measles is a highly contagious and potentially severe disease that initially causes fever, cough, red, watery eyes, and, finally, a rash,” said Dr. Muntu Davis, Los Angeles County health officer. “Measles is spread by air and by direct contact even before you know have it.”
The infected children in Denver traveled through Concourse A, then took the train to the west baggage claim and west level 4 passenger pickup areas.
The following day they visited Children’s Hospital Colorado, the Anschutz Campus Emergency Department, from 1 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. The children were hospitalized for treatment, officials said.
“All individuals traveling on the plane with these children or who visited Children’s Colorado during this time frame and are believed to be at risk are being contacted directly by public health,” the Tri-County Health Department said.
About 90% of people who have never been immunized against measles will become ill one to three weeks after exposure. The virus can be spread by infected people before they show symptoms and know they are infected.
The most common symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and a rash that usually appears 10 days to 21 days after exposure.
There have been 20 measles cases among Los Angeles County residents this year, and 14 cases involving nonresidents who traveled through Los Angeles County. Most of the cases involved people who were not immunized or did not know their immunization status.
Nationwide, there have been 1,276 cases of measles reported in 31 states this year, the most reported in the U.S. since 1992, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Globally, more than 140,000 people died from measles in 2018 ― a jump from roughly 124,000 deaths in 2017, according to a report from the CDC and the World Health Organization.
WHO reported in August that the number of measles cases reported worldwide in the first six months of this year tripled from the same period the previous year and was the most since 2006.
“This follows successive yearly increases since 2016, indicating a concerning and continuing upsurge in the overall measles burden worldwide,” WHO said.
The largest outbreaks are in countries where there is low measles vaccination coverage.
“The reasons for people not being vaccinated vary significantly between communities and countries including — lack of access to quality healthcare or vaccination services, conflict and displacement, misinformation about vaccines, or low awareness about the need to vaccinate,” the WHO said.