State public health officials say the risk for measles is “high” in Iowa as there have been confirmed cases of measles in Wisconsin and Illinois. Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, medical director for the Iowa Department of Public Health, says measles is a highly contagious disease.

“I think most people think that you have to be near somebody who is ill to get that disease,” Quinlisk says. “…It is so contagious that you can go into a room where somebody with measles left several hours before that and you can still get exposed to the measle virus.”

Quinlisk says years ago when she was evaluating her first measles outbreak, a doctor contracted measles and nearly died after merely walking by a young girl who was sitting in a hallway. “You can imagine somebody walking through an airport or a mall can actually expose a lot of people to measles,” Quinlisk says.

A couple of groups are of particular concern to public health officials like Quinlisk. “Most children do not get their first dose of vaccine until they’re one year of age which is what is recommended, which leaves some babies vulnerable,” Quinlisk says. “…There are some people who have not been vaccinated and those people really need to think about getting their vaccines to protect them against this disease and then there are some older people who when they went through school vaccines were not available may have never had measles and they, then, of course are susceptible also.”

In addition, some folks who got the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination as a child need to get another booster shot. “Most children who started school after 1991 would have had two doses of the M.M.R. and we we know that two doses measles vaccine is about 99 percent effective for the rest of their life so they will not need boosters,” Quinlisk says. “Now, some people who started school before 1991 may have only gotten one dose and while one dose is probably somewhere around 95 percent effective, you need that second dose to get you up to the 99 percent so some of those people may need to go in and get a second dose.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 64 cases of measles so far this year in the United States. That’s the highest number reported since 2001. About one-third of the people in this measles outbreak have been hospitalized. “Even in this country with good medical care somewhere around maybe five, maybe seven percent of people can die from measles, so this is not a mild disease,” Quinlisk says, “This can be a very, very serious disease.”

Measles causes a high fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes and a red rash that moves from the face to the rest of the body.