A statewide health alert issued by the Texas Department of State Health Services following an outbreak of measles in Texas has prompted concern from Oklahoma’s public health officials.

“We are worried about the current outbreak of measles in Texas, because measles is very contagious, spreads like wildfire and can be very serious,” said Lori Linstead, director of the Immunization Service at the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

The age range of the Texas cases is from 4 months to 44 years old. “Persons of any age who have not been appropriately vaccinated against measles are susceptible to the disease,” said Linstead.

Currently, there are no reported cases of measles in Oklahoma. The last reported case of measles in the state was in 1997.

Measles is spread from person-to-person by airborne droplets, commonly from a contagious person coughing or sneezing; by direct contact with nasal or throat secretions of infected persons; or through touching surfaces contaminated with these secretions. Infected people can spread the disease usually four days before their rash starts to four days after rash onset.

Symptoms of measles include a high fever and a red blotchy rash starting on the face then spreading to the rest of the body. Symptoms begin to appear about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus. Individuals first experience a fever lasting about two to four days then followed by the onset of cough, runny nose, and/or conjunctivitis. The rash usually appears about 14 days after exposure and lasts four to seven days. It begins at the hairline, and then involves the face and upper neck. Over the next three days, the rash gradually proceeds downward and outward, reaching the hands and feet. Symptoms may last for one to two weeks. There is no treatment for measles; however, health care providers may treat the symptoms of measles with bed rest, plenty of fluids, and anti-fever medications.

Oklahoma State Department of Health officials are alerting Oklahoma health care providers to consider measles in their diagnosis of patients with compatible symptoms who have traveled to the North Texas area during the 18 days prior to the onset of symptoms. Providers should take appropriate infection control precautions and immediately report any suspected cases to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

About one out of 10 children with measles also gets an ear infection, and up to one out of 20 gets pneumonia. One out of every 2,000 will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Coma due to measles encephalitis may last for weeks or months. For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die.

Persons who are not vaccinated are definitely at risk of getting the disease. “We strongly recommend that all parents think about vaccinating their children with MMR vaccine now. The first dose is recommended at 12 to 15 months of age, so babies who have reached their first birthday can receive the vaccine now; there is no reason to wait,” Linstead said.

Ninety-four percent of Oklahoma toddlers (19 through 35 months of age) have received one dose of measles vaccine and 97 percent of children entering kindergarten in Oklahoma have received two doses. But, measles is so contagious, that even a very small number of unvaccinated children won't be protected if the measles virus gets into the community. State health officials consider the six percent of Oklahoma toddlers who haven’t received the vaccine to be at risk.

The second dose of MMR is recommended at 4 to 6 years of age or before entering kindergarten. “All children 4 years of age or older who have not received a second dose of MMR can get it now,” Linstead said.

Parents who have not vaccinated their children or delayed vaccination because of fears of measles vaccine causing autism should know that many studies have been done to investigate if the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine has any connection to autism. Absolutely no link has been found. Twelve studies have produced no evidence that children who receive MMR vaccine are at greater risk of autism than those who haven’t received MMR vaccine. The results of studies are very clear; the data show no relationship between vaccines and autism.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health recommends that children receive MMR vaccine from their regular health care provider, clinic, or county health department.

For more information on measles, visit www.health.ok.gov.