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Measles Case Reported on San Diego Bound Flight

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February 26, 2011

The County of San Diego Department of Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) is investigating a measles exposure on a Southwest Airlines flight from Baltimore to San Diego, via Denver. HHSA has been notified by the California Department of Public Health of a person who flew while infectious with measles on Feb 22. The flight originated in Baltimore, stopped in Denver, and landed in San Diego at 11:00 p.m. San Diego bound flight #3423 stopped in Denver to allow some passengers to disembark and additional passengers to board.   

The person with measles was exposed in Europe. Passengers on the plane from Baltimore to Denver are being contacted by public health nurses to determine if they have been vaccinated. 

The measles virus can remain suspended in the air and can live on surfaces for up to two hours after an infected individual has left a location. For this reason, passengers on the flight from Denver to San Diego may have been exposed to the measles virus even though the ill passenger was no longer on the plane. County officials are in the process of obtaining the list of passengers for this leg of the flight. HHSA staff will conduct interviews with these individuals once identified.

“Measles is a highly-contagious disease that is spread easily by coughing, sneezing, or coming in close contact with an infected person,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County Public Health Officer. “Anyone who was on the flight should watch for symptoms and contact their healthcare provider by telephone first, if they show any signs of the disease. We ask people to telephone the provider in advance so that infection control measures may be implemented to prevent exposure to others.”

Measles develops seven to 18 days after exposure, with early symptoms including cough, runny nose, and red eyes. The distinctive red rash usually appears one to four days after early symptoms emerge. A person is considered contagious four days before the rash appears. The rash begins on the face and head then proceeds downward and outward to the hands and feet. It fades in the same order it began, from head to feet.

“I would also like to remind the public that the measles is spread through the air and the virus can live for about two hours after it is released into the environment,” said Wooten. “The best way to prevent measles is by getting the measles vaccine.”

All persons born in 1957 or after should have documentation of at least one dose of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine or other evidence of immunity to measles. The CDC recommends two doses of the vaccine; the first at 12 months of age, and the second between ages 4 - 6.

Complications from measles are more common in children younger than 5 years of age and adults 20 years and older. Complications can include diarrhea, ear infection and pneumonia. Death can occur from severe complications and the risk is higher among younger children and adults. There is no treatment for measles. Bed rest, fluids and control of fever are recommended. Persons with complications may need treatment for their specific problem.

For more information about measles, other vaccine-preventable diseases and the shots that protect against them, please call the HHSA Immunization Branch at (866) 358-2966 or visit the website at


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