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Measles case at Baystate spurs alert

NORTHAMPTON — City public health officials are reaching out to people who may have had contact with an area resident diagnosed with measles — a highly contagious disease that is rare in the U.S. — over the weekend at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.

The patient, an adult who was admitted to the hospital April 2, has since been discharged and is no longer contagious, according to a Baystate spokesman. He declined to provide other information about the person, citing health privacy laws.

Merridith O’Leary, Northampton’s public health director, said Wednesday that “there are no confirmed cases in Northampton as of right now.”

O’Leary said the state Department of Public Health contacted her office Saturday after a patient at Baystate who had spent time in Northampton was diagnosed with measles. O’Leary also declined to provide additional details about the person, citing privacy laws.

DPH spokeswoman Anne Roach said a single confirmed case of measles had been reported within the past week in a resident of Franklin County — one of eight confirmed cases in Massachussets so far this year.

Although the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says measles was eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, about 60 cases are still reported nationwide each year.

Roach said her department is working with local public health departments to identify individuals who may have been exposed to the patient at Baystate and determine who may be at risk for getting ill. Measles, which can be dangerous in young children, pregnant women and the elderly, can be prevented with a vaccine. Roach said most people have been vaccinated against measles.

Meanwhile, Smith College posted a “Measles Notification” announcement on its website quoting an email sent Sunday to the college community. The email states that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health “informed Smith College that any individuals who were in Dewey or Hatfield Hall on Monday, March 31, may have been exposed to the measles virus.

“Individuals who have received two measles vaccinations, or who were born before 1957 are considered immune and not at risk,” the email states. “If you believe you have been exposed and are at risk, or have any questions, please contact Health Services. Visitors to Smith over the next few weeks may wish to check their immunization status before spending time on campus.”

Early symptoms of measles include rising fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes, Roach said. After two to four days, a rash appears on the head and then moves to the trunk and limbs. The rash typically lasts a few days before disappearing.

Complications from measles, such as pneumonia, can be especially dangerous for very young children or the elderly. Pregnant women who become ill with measles are at higher risk for premature labor. Even in healthy individuals, measles can lead to complications serious enough to require hospitalization, according to the CDC.

Dr. Sarah Haessler, Baystate’s epidemiologist, said given the incubation period for measles, if there is a second case in the area, it would occur between now and April 24. She said the Medical Center has identified staff members who may have been exposed to the patient diagnosed with measles and is vaccinating those who need it.

“The best approach we can take now is to educate the community,” Haessler said. “This isn’t a common disease and we believe the vast majority of people are immune to measles. The most important thing people can do is to check their immunization status.”

Haessler added that people who think they may have symptoms of measles should call their doctors before showing up in their offices, where they might infect other people.

In Northampton, O’Leary said public health workers are “following up with anyone who is not vaccinated” and may have had contact with the individual diagnosed at Baystate. In addition, her office alerted local physicians to keep an eye out for any signs of the disease in their patients.

The city Health Department is not offering a measles vaccine, so people should contact their physician if they feel they need one, O’Leary said.

“If there is transmission or other confirmed cases in our area, then we will consider holding a clinic,” she added.

Christina Trinchero, a spokeswoman for Cooley Dickinson Hospital, said Wednesday there were no reported cases of measles among hospital patients.

“We have provided information about measles to our emergency room staff and physicians as well as members of the Cooley Dickinson Hospital medical staff,” Trinchero said. She noted that the hospital has not had a case of measles in 25 years.

Dr. Jonathan Schwab of Northampton Area Pediatrics said he has not seen measles among any of his patients. Still, the practice is taking precautions, such as asking parents to keep sick children out of the waiting area.

The CDC declared measles eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, meaning it no longer spreads year-round. However, about 60 cases of measles are reported each year and in 2013, that number climbed to 189 — the second largest number of cases since 2000, according to the agency.

In Massachusetts, the highest number of measles cases reported in the past decade was in 2011, when 24 cases were diagnosed, according to the state health department. Last year, the state reported two cases of measles and in 2012, none.

Health experts say people bring measles to the U.S. from other countries where the disease is still common through immigration or travel. The CDC advises people to be vaccinated against measles, especially before traveling abroad.

O’Leary noted that infants who do not receive their first measles vaccine until they are 12 months old are not fully immune until they receive a booster dose between 4 and 6 years old.

Karen Jarvis-Vance, director of Health Services for Northampton public schools, said the city has a higher proportion of unvaccinated and “undervaccinated” children than schools in other parts of the country. She said about a dozen children in each city school are either not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated against measles and other contagious diseases.

More information about measles is available online at the city Public Health Department, www.northamptonma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/2343.

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