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Western Pennsylvania measles outbreak traced to India

| Friday, April 10, 2009

A traveler from India infected at least six people in Western Pennsylvania with measles, state and county officials said Thursday.

The state Department of Health issued an alert last week warning people who visited public areas of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh on March 10 or 11 that a Westmoreland County man and his two children had contracted the disease, which is highly contagious in people who have not been vaccinated.

"When we had the first three cases, we started our search for someone who could have brought it in from overseas," said Ron Voorhees, the Allegheny County Health Department's chief of epidemiology. "Essentially all cases come from overseas. We don't have indigenous measles in the United States anymore."

The state is not identifying the six infected people or the traveler, and officials suspect that a few more cases exist, though they're awaiting laboratory confirmation.

Measles is a virus transmitted through breathing infected air. Infected people are contagious before they show symptoms, which typically include fever, cough, pain, a runny nose and, eventually, a rash.

It is rarely deadly, though about one in 20 children develops pneumonia and one in 1,000 develops a more serious infection, which can lead to brain swelling, Voorhees said.

Children who are vaccinated — usually with the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, immunization schools require — and get a booster shot rarely are at risk for contracting the disease.

In addition to Children's, the state is warning that people could have been exposed to the disease at:

• Children's Hospital Emergency Department and waiting area between 6 p.m. March 27 and 3 a.m. March 28; and between 2:30 and 5 p.m. March 28;

• Alle-Kiski Hospital Emergency Department, main lobby and ground floor public areas between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. March 28;

• EMS-1 Conference at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, in the Snowflake Room and main dining room between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. March 26;

• Allegheny County Port Authority bus routes: 28X (Airport Flyer) between 10 a.m. and noon March 24 and between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. March 28; the 33X (West Busway All Stops) between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. March 27; and 71A between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. March 24 and between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. March 27.

People who suspect they or their children were exposed to measles should make a doctor's appointment immediately. Let the doctor know about the suspected exposure before visiting the office to avoid possibly exposing others.

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