Airport Measles Spread: Children Are At Highest Risk

Children Exposed to Virus

All passengers traveling on one of the three flights that a young woman with a confirmed case of measles was on last week were likely exposed to this deadly virus. The good news is that most Americans received the measles vaccine as a child and are therefore protected. However, un-immunized children and infants still remain at a high risk.

The female passenger in her mid-20's had contracted the measles virus abroad before boarding a plane and traveling from the UK, to Washington Dulles International Airport, Denver International Airport and Albuquerque International Airport on February 20th. Anyone who came in contact with this woman either in flight or in the airport was likely exposed. Infants and children who have not yet received the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine along with other un-vaccinated individuals are at the highest risk for infection.

The measles is a highly contagious virus which can be spread through touch, breathing, coughing sneezing or other forms of contact. A person typically does not know they have contracted the measles until one to two weeks after exposure. The virus can cause fever, cough, muscle pain, rash, and eye irritation among other symptoms. In some cases serious complications such as pneumonia, diarrhea, ear infections, croup, encephalitis and even death can occur. Children and infants, who have weaker immune systems than adults, are not only more likely to contract the measles, but also to develop complications or die from the disease. This virus is the world's leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in children.


Since the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963 the virus has been almost completely eradicated in the United States. However, the World Health Organization believes that each year there are still more than 10 million people in other countries that are infected by the virus. Therefore, foreign visitors or un-vaccinated international travelers returning back to the US are often the cause of measles outbreaks. Anyone who has not been vaccinated is at high risk during these outbreaks.

Unfortunately, more and more parents in the US are choosing not to vaccinate their children with the MMR vaccine as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Most often this is due to parental concerns about possible related negative effects of the vaccine, such as autism. These concerns have been extensively studied by researchers and there has been no scientific evidence to indicate that the risks of the vaccine outweigh the benefits. Nonetheless, many parents still continue choose not to vaccinate their children.

The measles exposure of last week prompted Public Health officials to track down individuals on the flights to inform them of the incident in addition to issuing public warnings. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released a statement saying, “People who were working or traveling through Concourse C at DIA on Tuesday after 9 pm. Should monitor themselves for any early symptoms of measles, especially fever, from March 1 to March 12.”

Individuals, including children, may be able to receive a vaccine or globulins after exposure to prevent symptoms of the virus. Although it is still a bit too early to tell, so far there has been no subsequent confirmed measles cases from exposed passengers.