U.S. measles outbreak feared after infected woman travels

CHICAGO Sun Feb 27, 2011 5:37pm EST

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - State, local and federal health agencies are working to prevent an outbreak of measles after a woman carrying the contagious infection traveled widely within the United States, federal officials said on Sunday.

The woman contracted the airborne virus in the United Kingdom and arrived in the United States last week, passing through three U.S. airports on her way to New Mexico, where she is believed to reside, said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

"The work is going on to reach those individuals that were sitting in close proximity to the infected person," Skinner said. "We need to reach those that were within five rows in front and five rows behind the infected person."

The woman, who some media reports have identified as a U.S. resident in her twenties, arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport on Tuesday, February 22, from London.

She then flew to Denver International Airport and ended at Albuquerque International Airport in New Mexico, Skinner said.

The CDC is still looking to see if other infections have occurred in connection to this exposure.

"Measles is a highly contagious disease and for some people it can be pretty serious. So we need reach out to those that are at risk," Skinner said.

In a separate incident, about 180 people have been vaccinated in a Boston office building where another infected woman traveling from France went to work while contagious with measles.

Those infected will experience a fever, runny nose, cough and develop a rash, according to the CDC's website.

Measles is a virus that kills nearly 200,000 people each year around the world and is a leading cause of death among children in the developing world. Those who have had an active measles infection or who have been vaccinated against the measles have immunity to the disease.

In the U.S. and Canada, childhood vaccination reduced the number of measles cases to nearly zero in recent decades, but rates have begun to rise again recently, according to the National Institutes of Health.

More than 130 cases of measles were reported in 15 U.S. states in 2008, the most recent large outbreak in the U.S., according to the CDC.

(Reporting by Eric Johnson; editing by Peter Bohan)

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