While the US battles one of its worst flu seasons, residents of New York City may be facing yet another health scare. The state’s Department of Health recently announced the potential for a measles outbreak after an infected tourist visited the city in February.

According to the agency’s website, the Australian visited the city between 16 and 21 February as part of the Oasis Bible Tour group. He reportedly visited hotels in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Watchtower Educational Center in Putnam County, an Urgent Care Center and a hotel in Orange County, and Orange Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Department.

“We have a list of now 32 contacts… it’s not a large number by our standards, and every one of these people have been contacted by the Health Department,” Dr Jane Zucker, the city Health Department’s assistant commissioner who heads the immunization bureau, told The Observer. “There was one person we were unable to reach, but we will continue to try.”

The DoH has released a list of the places along with the time that the patient zero visited during his trip and has called on people who were in the vicinity to get themselves checked by a medical professional if they start to exhibit measles-like symptoms. The virus is capable of staying alive in the air and on surfaces for up to two hours.

What is measles?

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease that spreads easily through the air. It can spread into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been working to control and eradicate the disease in the country, dropping immunization rates now pose a concern.

NY has already installed measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Across the state, measles immunization is required for children enrolled in schools, daycare and pre-kindergarten. College students also have to show proof of immunization.

In January itself, the CDC reported nine cases of measles in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana and Texas.

Symptoms of measles

According to the CDC, a person infected with measles generally takes seven to 14 days to show signs of infection. Early symptoms include high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes (conjunctivitis).

It is followed by the appearance of tiny white spots (Koplik spots) inside the mouth, two of three days later. Rashes start to appear on the skin and are followed by spots and bumps in tight clusters. They start at the hairline and spread across the face and neck before making their way down the body.

A person infected with measles will suffer from low immunity, exposing his body to other illnesses like diarrhea, ear infections and pneumonia.

In serious cases, the virus can infect the brain and if untreated, can lead to permanent brain damage. Pregnant women who catch the disease risk early labor, miscarriage and low birth weight infants.

Prevention and Cure

The single best way to prevent measles is to be vaccinated, states the CDC. The MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine makes people immune to the virus and the first dose should be given at 12-15 months of age. The second dose should be given at four to six years of age.

The Health Department has advised people who are unsure of being vaccinated to visit a medical practitioner immediately to get the required shots.

There is no cure for measles but medication can reduce some of the symptoms. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are administered to help control the fever while additional drugs target the rashes, ear infection and diarrhea. Rest and fluids are recommended for anyone infected.