While there have been no confirmed cases of measles in the Daviess County area, officials say, because there has been a child positively diagnosed in the nearby Barren River Health District, the community should be aware of the virus and its symptoms.
Barren River District Health Department confirmed that the measles virus was found in a young child from that region. According to the Kentucky Department for Public Health, the child was unvaccinated and recently traveled out of the country to an area where measles is endemic. Officials say the case is not linked to the ongoing measles outbreak in the state of Washington or other cases of measles in the U.S., and they have confirmed the child did not become infectious until returning to Kentucky.
Jessica Austin, senior epidemiologist for the Green River District Health Department, said any time a highly contagious diagnosis is found that close, it is on the radar of local health officials.
“I can’t recall a case of the measles in my career,” Austin said, adding that the virus has been suspected in recent years, but tests always came back negative.
While she does not believe Daviess County or the Green River District to be in any danger of a measles outbreak, Austin said it is a good time for the community to remember the signs and symptoms of the virus, adding that just one case of measles is considered an outbreak.
Austin said measles begins with cold-like symptoms such as fever, cough and runny nose. But soon red spots appear in the patient’s mouth and next on his or her hairline, eventually spreading down over the body.
Measles is highly contagious, Austin said, adding that once exposed, a person has a 90 percent chance of contracting the airborne virus. Owensboro Health Regional Hospital officials said that the reproductive number, or the average number of people who will catch a virus from one contagious person, is 12 to 18 for measles, compared to two to three for the flu.
Nurse Practitioner Sarah Osborne at Owensboro Health’s Children’s Center said the Barren River area outbreak does not cause her concern, but said it is something local health officials are aware of because of its proximity to Daviess County.
“We have a high enough vaccination rate in our area it shouldn’t be an issue,” Osborne said.
Osborne explained that children typically receive a vaccination for mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) at 12 months and a booster shot at 4 years old. She said the two doses are 98 to 99 percent effective for life.
“I wouldn’t recommend this vaccination for patients if I didn’t vaccinate my own kids,” Osborne said. “Measles is so very preventable and the side effects in vaccines are so rare.”
Osborne said there have been no confirmed cases of measles in Daviess County in recent history, estimating the last case was five to eight years ago and involved a child that immigrated to the area.
Osborne said Daviess County has a high immigrant population that brings higher exposure rates to viruses like measles because their country of origin typically has lower vaccination rates due to economic barriers and less access to health care.
Austin said an ever-growing global society also contributes to measles making its way back to the U.S., like the case in the Barren River District.
“We encourage the community to use this as an opportunity to educate themselves as an extra level of protection,” Austin said.