MO health officials warn how to spot measles after Midwest outbreak

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COLUMBIA - Columbia health officials are reminding the public how to spot the signs of measles after an outbreak in the Kansas City metro area and potential disease exposure at several St. Louis businesses.

In the past week, there have been at least 10 confirmed cases of measles in the greater Kansas City area. All of these cases have been reported in Kansas.

On the other side of the state in St. Louis, health officials warn that there might have been potential measles exposure at several local businesses on March 13 and 14, including The Magic House, a Kirkwood children's attraction; Kirkwood pizza place Racanelli's New York Pizzeria; and Homewood Suites hotel in Chesterfield.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services released a statement Wednesday saying it is working with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health to notify individuals who might have been exposed at these locations.

The symptoms of measles usually appear seven to 14 days after exposure to the disease. That means individuals exposed to the disease in St. Louis during the exposure period might not be exhibiting symptoms yet.

The telltale sign of measles is a red, spotted skin rash.

But Lynelle Phillips, an instructor in the MU School of Health Professions and School of Nursing, said measles can be contagious before the rash raises a red flag.

"The tricky thing about measles is you become infectious in the early stages of the disease, up to four days before the rash," Phillips said. "So you might have what for all the world looks like the common cold, but you actually have the measles and you're spreading it already."

Other symptoms that might appear during a measles infection include a high-grade fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes and tiny, white spots in the mouth. The rash usually appears three to five days after the onset of these other symptoms.

As of now, cases of measles have only been confirmed in Kansas City. And potential measles exposure is only believed to have happened in St. Louis. But Phillips said that's too close for comfort, and all Missouri parents should ensure their children are up-to-date on their MMR, or measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations.

"When we had a lot of measles, we didn't have a lot of people objecting to vaccines," Phillips said. "Because measles, while it was a routine childhood disease, killed nearly 2 out of 1,000 kids infected."

Patients seeking an MMR vaccine for themselves or their child can get the shot at several locations around Columbia, including the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Eric Stann, community relations specialist with the department, said walk-in immunization appointments are available at the department from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

He said the health department also monitors the community for potential outbreaks of disease.

"We have a team here that works on surveillance of communicable diseases that works closely with our local providers, as well as with the state health department," Stann said.

According to the CDC, the MMR vaccine, when taken in the suggested two-shot series, is 97 percent effective at preventing measles.