Indiana state health officials are working to curb an outbreak of measles in central Indiana that has spread from two to 13 confirmed cases in less than a week.
On Tuesday, those state health officials issued a press release with a list of workplaces, schools, stores churches and medical clinics where there had been a “high risk” of exposure to the measles virus over the past two weeks.
That list includes the Delphi Electronics automotive-parts plant in Kokomo, where local health officials issued a warning to Delphi employees that they may have been exposed to a co-worker infected with the virus.
It also includes the Ivy Tech Community College in Anderson, a funeral home in Cicero, a Wal-Mart in Indianapolis, and a medical clinic in Zionsville.
State and local health officials are scrambling to identify places where the 13 people with the confirmed cases have been in recent days. The measles virus is rare, but it’s highly contagious. A sneeze or a cough can send droplets of the virus spreading through the air and surfaces that have been touched by a virus carrier can remain infected up to two hours.
“We’re working with local health officials to identify any additional cases and to notify people who have been impacted by exposure to the measles virus,” said Amy Reel, a spokeswoman for the Indiana State Department of Health.
Health officials are tracking the cases – and all the places where those infected with the virus may have been – in attempt to curb the spread of the disease. Early symptoms of the measles can mimic a bad cold or flu, so people infected with measles don’t even know they’re exposing others to it.
To curb a measles outbreak of 14 confirmed cases that occurred last year in northern Indiana, health officials interviewed 700 people and conducted 300 blood tests in an attempt to track the virus’ spread, Reel said.
A week ago, the state health department issued a press release about two confirmed measles cases and two probable cases that had been identified in Marion and Boone counties. They notified the media that one of those infected people had been in Indianapolis, at Super Bowl Village, when about 200,000 people had gathered at the open-air festival site two days before the game.
The measles virus was once common enough that people born before 1957 are considered immune, since they either contracted the disease or were exposed to it.
With widespread vaccinations of children in recent years, the measles virus was nearly eradicated by 2000. But there’s been a slow rise in reported cases in the U.S.; many involved people who had traveled to the U.S. from countries where the measles virus is still prevalent.
The federal Centers for Disease Control tracks the measles virus because it’s considered serious and can be fatal. The CDC reported more than 200,000 measles-related deaths last year outside the U.S.
Both state and federal health officials are concerned about unvaccinated children. While Indiana schools require students to be vaccinated, parents can opt out of that requirement for religious or personal reasons.
The Howard County Health Department said as many as 604 Delphi employees may have been exposed to the measles virus between Feb. 1 to Feb. 9. The county health department said a Delphi employee with early symptoms of the measles came to work not knowing he was infectious. That employee had contracted the virus from his children who attend school in Hamilton County.
Meanwhile, the parents of students at the Noblesville Intermediate School were notified late Monday that their children may have exposed to a student with a suspected case of the measles.
School officials said about 100 of the 9,400 students enrolled in the Noblesville school system had not been immunized against the measles. School officials were contacting parents of those children, encouraging them to contact their physician to get their children immunized.
The state health department has also set up a hotline for people to call with questions about the virus. The hotline number is 1-877-826-0011. State health department staff will be on-hand during the hours of 8:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., Monday through Friday, to answer questions from the public.