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Measles may have infected 2 more

Officials worry it is spreading

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By Stephen Smith
Globe Staff / February 25, 2011

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Two more Boston-area adults are suspected of having measles, city health authorities reported yesterday, suggesting that the highly infectious ailment may be on the move beyond the Back Bay office building where a woman went to work while harboring the disease.

Neither of the newly identified patients worked in the Park Square Building with the French consulate employee whose case of measles has been confirmed.

But their symptoms — they both have the telltale rash that is the mark of measles — and their possible proximity to the infectious woman have left disease trackers deeply worried that the potentially life-threatening virus is spreading.

Because of those concerns, city health authorities, who first offered free measles vaccine Wednesday, have decided to offer a second round of free shots today to unvaccinated people who may have been exposed.

The vaccine will be provided from noon to 5 p.m. on the first floor of the Park Square Building at 31 St. James Ave. The inoculations are intended for people who work in that building or who may have dined in restaurants in the neighborhood while the French consulate worker was circulating earlier this month.

One of the women newly suspected of having the disease — she is in her 20s — lives in the same Boston building as the original case, said Dr. Anita Barry, top disease investigator at the Boston Public Health Commission. “They would have been directly sharing air space,’’ said Barry, who declined to specify whether the women were roommates.

The second suspected case reported to health authorities yesterday involves a 36-year-old woman who frequented the bustling restaurants in the Park Square entertainment district. The French consulate employee was a regular in those establishments, too, Barry said.

Neither of the women with possible cases of measles has needed to stay in a hospital, Barry said. Laboratory tests will be conducted to confirm whether they have the disease, which is heralded by a fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes, and, a few days after those original symptoms, a rash.

Measles is notorious among infectious disease specialists for its propensity to leapfrog swiftly from victim to victim, carried by a sneeze or a cough. But only certain people are vulnerable: those who have not been vaccinated and who were born when measles was no longer prevalent, an era that ended in the United States in the late 1950s.

It is also believed that people inoculated when measles vaccine first became available in the 1960s may want to consider being revaccinated because those early formulations proved less potent than later shots.

“I think a good proportion of our population is immune because they went to school here or went to college here or work in health care here,’’ Barry said. Schools and medical employers require that virtually all their students and employees be vaccinated against the disease.

Barry encouraged anyone who was recently in the building or the neighborhood to be vigilant for signs of measles.

“Please, if you think you have this, don’t just keep circulating in public,’’ Barry said. “Stay at home and call your health care provider. But don’t just go into the doctor’s office, because there have to be special precautions to avoid spread in health care facilities.’’

Stephen Smith can be reached at stsmith@globe.com.