Prince William Man Is Has Area's 6th Case of Measles, 1st in Va.

By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A sixth case of measles has been reported in the Washington Area, this time in Prince William County, the first sign of the disease in Virginia this year.

The Virginia Department of Health announced the case yesterday, a day after D.C. officials reported finding the highly infectious disease in a District man who contracted it during a recent three-week trip to India. There is no known link between the Virginia case and the others in the region, health officials said. The source of the measles virus in the Virginia resident has not been identified.

Denise Sockwell, the Virginia Department of Health's epidemiologist for Northern Virginia, said the man "did not have a history of travel outside the United States."

The Prince William resident works at the Harris Teeter in Tysons Corner, said Jennifer Thompson, director of communications for the supermarket chain.

"The person is fine now," Thompson said, adding that the store sent voice mail messages yesterday to 1,074 customers who had shopped at the store during the man's shifts April 10-14, alerting them to possible exposure. She said no other employees have contracted the disease, and the man has not returned to work.

The man also visited several places where unimmunized people might have been exposed, including a Safeway and 7-Eleven in Woodbridge, an IHOP in Falls Church, and a CVS in Fairfax Station. People who think they might have measles should contact their doctor's offices before going in, Sockwell said, so that precautions can be taken to prevent others from being exposed.

Measles germs can linger in the air for up to two hours, putting at risk people who have not been vaccinated. In the United States, that includes babies younger than 1 year old who are too young for the vaccine, people who have moved to the region from countries where the vaccine is not prevalent, and people who decide against getting it for religious or other reasons.

People born before 1957, when the vaccine was not available, are generally considered to be immune because they are assumed to have contracted the disease as children, health officials said. "In those days, it was thought of as a disease of childhood," Sockwell said. According to the 2007 Virginia Immunization Survey, 94 percent of kindergarteners and 98 percent of sixth-graders in Virginia are vaccinated, she said.

The virus spreads through coughing and sneezing. Most people fully recover, but it can lead to complications such as ear infections, pneumonia and death. Symptoms include a rash, high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes, which can start seven to 21 days after exposure and last about a week.

Six cases in a region in a short period is rare, Sockwell said, noting that before one reported case last year, the state had not had a case in six years.

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