Measles Outbreak: How to Avoid Spreading Airborne Illnesses in Your Building

04/24/2019 | By Sarah Kloepple, Kate Cripe

Los Angeles health officials are investigating a measles outbreak in the county. The LA County Department of Public Health confirmed five cases among county residents, and that these are the first cases of transmission within the county in 2019.

No ages were released, but public health officials say the majority of the cases were unvaccinated. Potential measles exposure locations include Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

“We will likely see additional measles cases in Los Angeles County, so it is important if you or someone you know has the symptoms of measles or has been exposed to measles to contact your healthcare provider by phone right away before seeking treatment,” said Muntu Davis, MD, MPH, Los Angeles County Health Officer, in a press release.

“The best way to protect yourself and to prevent the spread of measles is to get the measles immunization, with two doses of measles immunization being about 97% effective at preventing measles,” he continues. 

Locations of Measles Outbreaks

The following locations have been currently identified as potential measles exposures:

  • LAX, Tom Bradley International Terminal, arrived at Gate 218 on April 1 from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

  • UCLA, Franz Hall on April 2, 4, and 9 and Boelter Hall on April 2 and 9 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

  • California State University, Los Angeles, Main Library, on April 11 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

  • El Pollo Loco Restaurant, 1939 Verdugo Blvd, La Cañada Flintridge, on April 11 from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

  • El Sauz Tacos, 4432 San Fernando Rd, Glendale, on April 13 from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

There is no known current risk related to measles at those locations at this time, public health officials say. They investigate all cases in the county and identify potential contacts to try to prevent additional spread of measles.

This outbreak follows a jump in the number of measles cases nationwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 626 individual cases have been confirmed this year in 22 states. That’s the second-highest total since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.

What is the Measles Virus?

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus and most commonly spread through coughing or sneezing. Symptoms can include rash, high fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes. 

[Related: Dwell Time: Are Your Disinfectants Actually Working?]

The people most at risk are those who have not been vaccinated against the illness, which is 97% effective, according to the CDC.

With a disease such as measles, the primary method of prevention is vaccination. The CDC states that “the MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

“The current recommendation is for children get two doses of MMR vaccine and teens and adults should also be up to date on their MMR vaccination.”

There are several reasons why people may not be vaccinated or are immune to the vaccine.

According to the CDC, about three out of 100 people who get the two doses of the vaccine will still get measles if exposed to the virus.

Other reasons why people aren’t vaccinated include a history of allergies and autoimmune diseases, as well as a weakened or failing immune system.

Protect Your Building From Measles and Other Airborne Diseases

When we hear about exposures in very public places, especially in locations such as an airport or college or library, it can cause alarm. What can we do to best protect ourselves and our tenants?

An exposure to airborne diseases occurs when a person is in the same confined space with a carrier of the disease. For measles, an exposure is defined as being with or near someone who has measles and occupying the same space with that person.

The exposure period extends to up to two hours after the infected person has left.

“The best way to protect yourself and to prevent the spread of measles is to get the measles immunization, with two doses of measles immunization being about 97% effective at preventing measles,” - Muntu Davis, MD, MPH, Los Angeles County Health Officer

Because some people are either immune to the vaccine or cannot be vaccinated, we rely on herd immunity, or community immunity. The idea is simply that by having a majority of people vaccinated against a certain disease, it is harder for it to spread and become an outbreak.

Like most illnesses, exposure of measles cannot be completely avoided. But we can take additional steps to help prevent the spread of the disease for those that are not vaccinated, including these four things:

1. Hand sanitizer

Put out hand sanitizer in clearly visible locations, such as near building entrances. A study from the Journal of the America Osteopathic Association shows that optimizing dispenser placement increases usage by more than 50%.

[Here’s an idea: Bathroom Hand Sanitizer Helps Commercial Buildings Promote Cleanliness]

2. Hand washing

Encourage tenants to wash their hands frequently. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand rub that contains at least 60% alcohol.

3. Cover up

Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

4. Dont share food or beverage items

Avoid sharing items such as utensils, straws (if they’re even still around) and water bottles as well as electronics like cell phones, tablets and laptops.

For even more tips, check out 3 Tips for Better Facility Hygiene with examples of ways facilities managers can help prevent the spread of not just measles, but all airborne illnesses.

This article was first published in March 2019 on Meetings Today and was updated April 24, 2019.

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