On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health alert to have doctors and health officials on the lookout for measles cases after a person with a confirmed, contagious case attended a religious event. massive in Kentucky last month, potentially exposing around 20,000 people. humans to one of the most infectious viruses on the planet.
The event was a spontaneous “outpouring” at Asbury University, which drew tens of thousands of worshipers to the small private Christian institution in Wilmore from February 8-23. Participants came from Kentucky, other US states and other countries.
A case of measles has been confirmed in an unvaccinated person who had recently traveled out of the country prior to attending the University of Asbury spill. The person was present at the event from February 17 to 18, the CDC reported. The university added that the person was present before developing symptoms, suggesting they did not know they were infected. But the CDC notes that people with measles are contagious four days before the telltale measles rash develops, and state health officials said the person was contagious while they were there.
It’s unclear how many people may be at risk of infection, but the CDC estimates that 20,000 attended during the same time period as the infected person. As such, exposure has the potential to trigger an explosive epidemic among those who were unvaccinated or under-vaccinated at the time of the event.
Kentucky has one of the lowest measles vaccination rates in the nation, with only about 86.5% of kindergarteners receiving two doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine during of the 2021-2022 school year, according to CDC data. In Jessamine County, which encompasses the University of Asbury, the kindergarten vaccination rate is 89.2%, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Health told Ars. Health officials are targeting a 95% vaccination rate to prevent the dangerous infection from spreading.
In a statement, the state health department spokesperson said the agency was working closely with local health departments, Asbury University and the CDC to anticipate a potential outbreak. Although no further measles cases have been linked to the event so far, the public health response is expected to last for several more weeks, at least.
“People with known exposure to the person with measles are contacted and those who are not vaccinated against measles are asked to self-quarantine,” the spokesperson said. “There are no other confirmed cases of measles related to this exposure at this time. It usually takes seven to 21 days for someone exposed to measles to develop the characteristic measles rash, so we anticipate that this investigation will continue for several more weeks.”
Measles is a highly contagious virus, causing infections that start with fever, cough, runny nose and pink eye before causing a characteristic red rash that usually develops three to five days after the first symptoms. The infection can easily become serious, especially for young children. In a recent outbreak in Ohio, 36 of 85 infected children (42%) were hospitalized.
The virus spreads through direct contact and through the air, where it can linger for up to two hours after an infected person leaves an area. According to the CDC, up to 90% of unvaccinated people exposed to the virus will become infected.
Local, state and federal health officials are now urging unvaccinated participants to quarantine for 21 days and get vaccinated.
“If you have been exposed on the University of Asbury campus and develop symptoms, whether or not they have been previously vaccinated, please isolate yourself from others and call your doctor, emergency care or the emergency department to get you tested,” Steven Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Public Health (KDPH) said in a press release. “Please do not arrive at a healthcare facility unannounced so that others are not exposed.”