Measles-infected child exposes people at Memphis International Airport

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A child with measles flew into Memphis International Airport on Monday.

The infected child came from Brussels to Newark, New Jersey, and then to Memphis. The flight landed in Memphis at 8:45 p.m. at gate C18.

"I wouldn't want my child to contract something especially that I had no control over," Heather Brown, a mother of seven, said. "It makes you think about other methods of travel, maybe. Just drive because at least you can control your car."

Center for Disease Control informed United Airlines that it is investigating a health issue on the flight.

Shelby County Health Department said the international traveler sought care soon after landing and was quickly placed in isolation.

"We were notified in the middle of the night this might be a case," Dr. Helen Morrow with SCHD said

SCHD is working to identify anyone who may have been exposed to the virus. Health officials are working on notifying everyone at risk of the outbreak and are monitoring their health.

The CDC, United Airlines, and the health department identified between 75 and 80 people possibly exposed locally, including patients and staff members in Le Bonheur's emergency department and those closest to the child on the plane.

"This particular airline had assigned seats, so we have a better idea of who was at greatest risk versus the entire airplane where we don't know who sat where," Morrow said.

Measles is a very contagious but easily preventable virus. It spreads from person-to-person through a cough or sneeze or coming in contact with the virus, which can live outside the human body for around two hours.

There is an extremely effective vaccine available and recommended for all children.

Measles symptoms include a high fever, red eyes, cough, runny nose, and sensitivity to light. Eventually, the patient develops a red rash on their body--typically beginning on the face or head.

However, health officials in Shelby County said they believe the risk of measles transmission at MEM is low.

Dr. John DeVincenzo--a pediatric immunologist and professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center--said measles is so contagious because it spreads through the air, but despite that, the whole plane isn't at risk, just the passengers nearest the sick child.

"The modern commercial airplanes have a filtering system where the air literally comes down on you and underneath your seat. It circulates it," DeVincenzo said.

In 2017, Memphis suffered through a minor measles outbreak. Seven people contracted the virus; all of the patients had not been vaccinated or were too young to have completed the vaccination process.

The source of the outbreak still has not been discovered.

While officials can't comment on the child's vaccination status specifically, they said the child didn't have full immunity, which does not mean that the child wasn't vaccinated.

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