Tennessee man with measles spent time in Knox County while contagious, officials say – Knoxville News Sentinel

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The East Tennessee man who contracted measles is not a resident of Knox County, but he spent time here while he was contagious, officials said.

In an interview with the News Sentinel on Tuesday, Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan provided new details about the first — and so far only — case of measles to be confirmed in Tennessee this year.

“What we know is that during the infectious period, which is about eight days, there were times when he was in Knox County,” Buchanan said. “Just like anybody else who lives near here, they come and go out of Knox County. They come here for business and do stuff and then go home to another county. He was in and out of Knox County during that period of infectiousness.”

Buchanan confirmed the man with measles is the same one who traveled to Mississippi earlier this month. Officials there held a news conference to warn the public, saying the unvaccinated man visited Hattiesburg from April 9-11, and that he spent time at two fast food restaurants and at a mall food court.

Buchanan referred questions about what dates the man was in Knox County and what locations he visited to state officials, saying the Knox County Health Department is not leading the investigation because the man is a resident of another county. Officials have not specified which county.

The Tennessee Department of Health declined to comment Tuesday.

“As I mentioned yesterday, this is an ongoing investigation, and we cannot provide any additional information at this time,” Elizabeth Hart, a spokeswoman for the state health department, wrote in an email. “We will update the general public if new information is available.”

State officials previously said they were working to contact more than 600 people who might have been exposed to the highly contagious disease in connection to the Tennessee case. That figure includes residents of other states, as well as an unspecified number of people who might have been exposed in Knox County.

National surge in measles cases

The Tennessee case was confirmed amid a surge in measles cases around the country. As of Friday, 626 cases had been reported across 22 states in 2019, the second-highest figure since the disease was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A total of 667 cases was reported in all of 2014, a figure that appears likely to be surpassed in the coming weeks.

The jump in cases has been fueled in part by the anti-vaccination movement, as the majority of people who contract measles have not been vaccinated, the CDC said.

The measles-mumps-rubella — or MMR — vaccination is widely available and highly effective. Those who are unsure whether they have been vaccinated should contact their doctor or local health department, Buchanan said. Health departments carry the vaccine and can help people check their vaccination status, she added.

The Knox County Health Department offers the vaccination to both children and adults. Most insurance policies will cover the MMR, but it’s available to uninsured children at no charge to parents. For adults, the vaccine costs $79 plus a $15 administration fee, but the health department will bill insurance.

Buchanan said the department is reaching out to people who might have been exposed to measles via the East Tennessee man to ensure they have been vaccinated.

“It’s not enough for them to say, ‘Yep, I got the measles vaccine,'” she said. “We’re getting documentation from them of that vaccination status.”

The CDC has long said adults born before 1957 don’t need to be vaccinated because it’s assumed they were exposed to measles and built immunity. There’s been a question, too, of whether adults born in the 1960s to 1980s received a less effective vaccine, or thought they were vaccinated when they weren’t.

In the wake of the recent surge in cases — including among adults who thought they were immune — the CDC has said getting a booster shot has no downside. It said two doses are about 97% effective at preventing measles, while a single dose is about 93% effective.

Symptoms

Measles typically begins with a fever, cough and runny nose. Tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth before a red, spotty rash appears on the face and spreads downward.

Complications can include pneumonia and swelling of the brain. Measles can be fatal, especially in young children.

The virus, spread when someone coughs or sneezes, can live for up to two hours in the air or on surfaces. Those who breathe contaminated air or touch a contaminated surface can become infected.

A person can spread the virus before any symptoms appear. The infectious period lasts about eight days. It begins four days before the rash appears and ends four days after, Buchanan said.

Reporter Kristi Nelson contributed to this story.

Reach Travis Dorman at travis.dorman@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @travdorman.

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