As more measles cases crop up in East Tennessee, officials with Ballad Health say there are protocols in place for slowing the spread of the disease.
The Tennessee Department of Health confirmed on Monday that two more cases of measles have been confirmed in East Tennessee, marking three cases of the infectious disease reported for the year.
The department confirmed the first case of the disease earlier this month.
The Center for Disease Control classifies a “measles outbreak” as three or more cases in a jurisdiction, but does not have Tennessee listed on their website of outbreaks in the country.
Jamie Swift, the director for infection prevention at Ballad Health, said that staff are on high alert for symptoms that may indicate a patient with any possible infectious disease.
Swift said the first line of defense is an updated weekly travel advisory of states and countries with reports of infectious diseases and their symptoms.
For measles, she said registration clerks are on the lookout for a combination of symptoms that include a fever, rash and a cough combined with any recent travel to a noted outbreak state or country.
Swift said the symptoms can be indicative of many afflictions that aren’t measles, which makes the pinpointing measles cases more complicated, especially during flu season.
“Really, we want to take an abundance of caution,” she said. “If you’ve got fever and rash or fever and cough, (we will) go ahead and get a mask on that person and get them away from the general population.”
One of the reasons for the caution around measles is because the virus is highly contagious, Swift added. Nine out of 10 non-immune people that are exposed to the virus will contract the disease – and the virus can live in the air for up to two hours.
That’s why the next step is removing the person from the general population, even before a positive measles test comes back.
“A lot of people think it’s just a mild, childhood illness,” she said. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing even in the outbreak across the U.S., cases that are ending up in the intensive care unit, long-term complications, and various things.”
Once a case has been confirmed, Swift said the clock starts ticking.
“When there is even one measles case, you can have hundreds of contacts,” she said. “It is a lot of work from public health from facilities from hospitals from public places like airports, there’s gotta be ways to identify those people and identify them quickly.”
Once a case has been confirmed, she said, Swift notifies the public health department which will start working to identify the people who might have been exposed.
Swift said the ideal protection against measles is vaccination, which is 97 percent effective for people who have gotten two doses of the MMR vaccine.
Adults may still get doses of the MMR vaccine even if they didn’t receive the vaccinations as a child.
Because three percent of vaccinated people will get the disease, she said it’s important to keep up with confirmed cases and continue to practice good hygiene to decrease chances of infection.
“The general population if you’re vaccinated and covered, your risk is extremely low, Swift said. “It’s those people who can’t be vaccinated, especially the children that are too young to be vaccinated that are our biggest concern.”
So far, the CDC has reported 704 cases of measles in the United States this year. Cases are confirmed in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee and Washington.