Health officials in the Northeast are on the lookout for measles, spread by a young Italian woman who arrived from Europe by plane on April 12, and developed the telltale fever and rash the next day in Rhode Island. A man from Camden County, N.J., already has been diagnosed with a "probable case" of measles linked to the woman.
Health officials in New Jersey have issued a public health alert for anyone who patronized several popular big-box stores and restaurants the man had visited in the days before and including Easter Sunday, when he began to develop measles symptoms.
"These infectious diseases have no borders," Dr. Christina Tan, the New Jersey state epidemiologist, said Friday. As of Friday, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services had not heard of any new cases linked to the Camden County man, she said. From April 21 to 24, days when he would have been highly contagious, the man visited a Home Depot, Kohl's, Wal-Mart, and a Toys-R-Us in the Cherry Hill area, as well as a nursery in Magnolia, a Lowe's in Lawnside, and a children's restaurant in Collingswood.
Those four days coincided with two major holidays, the Jewish holiday of Passover, April 18-26, and Easter Sunday on April 24, when the stores were filled with shoppers, many buying food, flowers, clothing and other items for family celebrations.
The state advised people who may have gone to the stores to remain vigilant until May 15 for signs and symptoms of the measles. Anyone who suspects they were exposed should call a health provider before heading to a medical office or hospital emergency room, to allow for proper precautions to reduce the chances of infecting fellow patients as well as health care workers.
The Italian traveler, described by Rhode Island health officials as in her 20s, began feeling ill and sought medical attention after arriving by car in Rhode Island on April 13. The doctor who treated her notified the Rhode Island Department of Health about the likely measles infection, subsequently confirmed with blood tests. The woman agreed to be isolated while recuperating, the health department said. The Providence Journal reported that Rhode Island hadn't had a measles case in 20 years.
New Jersey's Tan said she believed that the Camden County man was exposed in Rhode Island. The sick man, described only as being in his 30s, began developing measles symptoms on Easter Sunday, the same day that Camden County health officials said he attended a party with about 25 people.
The measles virus can hitch a ride on tiny droplets in the air when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes. It produces a telltale rash, along with fever, runny nose, watery eyes, aches, and other flu-like symptoms. Measles complications include pneumonia and dangerous brain inflammation called encephalitis. Pregnant women who become infected can miscarry or deliver a premature baby.