WASHINGTON -- An unusual series of five measles cases in the Washington area prompted public health officials from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia to start an awareness campaign on Monday to urge people to protect themselves from the potentially deadly disease.
Officials also planned to announce details of recent measles activity in the area, including places, dates and times when people may have been exposed to the illness as part of the recent cases.
Measles, best known for a red skin rash, is a potentially fatal, highly infectious virus that spreads through contact with an infected person sneezing or coughing. Because measles has been nearly eradicated in the United States, having multiple cases in a short time frame is cause for concern, health officials said.
Measles deaths have dropped significantly worldwide, according to world health authorities. In the U.S., the disease has been resurgent with nearly half of those involving children whose parents refuse vaccination, according to federal health officials.
Recent cases in California, Pennsylvania, Iowa and now the Washington region show that as long as measles exists somewhere in the world, it's still a threat, Athalia Christie said, senior technical adviser with the American Red Cross and member of the Measles Initiative, a global group.
The regional awareness effort will include information on what symptoms to look out for and urge parents to make sure their children are vaccinated.
Earlier this month, health officials announced that four cases, affecting three adults and a child, had been reported since February in Montgomery County. Officials believe the cases may have originated with an unvaccinated adult returning from abroad.
Doctors confirmed Friday that a city resident also had measles, Department of Health spokeswoman Dena Iverson said. That person was treated and released from a local hospital, and is no longer considered contagious. Officials did not provide the person's age.
Health officials were working to contact people who may have been exposed to that case, Iverson also said. The last confirmed measles case in Washington was April 2008.
The D.C. case is not related to the four cases reported in Montgomery County, according to Mary Anderson, of the county's health department.
"It's becoming a regional issue. We want to ... talk about specific exposure sites so people who've been at those places can be aware, and talk about the value of being protected against measles," Anderson said.
The disease is no longer endemic to the United States, thanks to high childhood vaccination rates, but every year cases enter the country through foreign visitors or Americans returning from abroad.
A list of places where there was a threat of exposure to measles follows:
SATURDAY, APRIL 4
SUNDAY, APRIL 5
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8
FRIDAY, APRIL 10
Anyone at any of those location at the specified times should call 311 (D.C. residents) or (202) 737-4404 (non-residents), the Montgomery County Health Department at (240) 777-4200, or the Virginia Disease Prevention Hotline at (800) 533-4148.