NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A spokesman for the state Department of Health said five cases of measles have been reported in Tennessee this year.
The cases of the highly contagious disease have been reported in Madison, Gibson, Hardeman, Hamilton and Shelby counties.
People in other counties may have been exposed to measles due to some patients traveling while not knowing they were contagious. Officials said the cases appeared to have started with one traveler who was exposed to the illness in another country, and the other four were people who had close contact with them.
A statement from the department said it is the first time measles has been reported in Tennessee in three years. The Tennessee Department of Health said they will notify clinicians across the state to have heightened awareness about the disease.
“When people should be vaccinated depends on age, medical conditions, travel plans and other factors,” said State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD. “While many recent cases are linked to travel to other countries where measles immunizations programs are not on par with the United States, almost anyone of any age, at any place, can be exposed to the measles virus. While you may not go out of the country, you may come in contact with people who do. Being properly vaccinated is critical in preventing measles. Talk with your health care provider about what is best for you and your family.”
The disease has been considered eliminated in the United States since 2000 other than occasional outbreaks due to people traveling overseas, and then spreading it among those who aren't vaccinated.
For most of the last decade, the nation was seeing only about 60 cases a year. But since 2010, the average has been nearly 160.
The measles virus can stay airborne or live on surfaces for up to two hours. Recently infected people may not have any symptoms of illness, but can transmit the virus for about five days before the typical rash appears. Symptoms of measles usually appear within one to two weeks after exposure and may include a blotchy rash, runny nose, fever, aches, watery eyes and white spots in the mouth.
Nearly one in three patients will develop ear infections, diarrhea or pneumonia.
At Pediatric Associates in Nashville, Dr. Mary Keown stressed to her patients the importance of getting the MMR vaccine. She said it is the best way to prevent getting measles.
"If you are concerned your child is not up to date on vaccines, see your pediatrician," said Dr. Keown. "Make sure your child has the required vaccinations in a timely manner."
For more information about measles, visit www.cdc.gov/measles/index.html.
(The Associated Press Contributed To This Report.)