White Coat Notes

Mass. health officials warn patients may have been exposed to measles at two hospitals

Hundreds of Massachusetts residents may have been inadvertently exposed to measles, a highly contagious disease, while visiting two hospitals in Greater Boston last month, state health officials said Tuesday evening.

The alert covers anyone who may be showing early symptoms of the disease, which resembles a cold at first, and visited Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston between August 17—23 or MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham on Aug. 23 and 24.

Two people infected with measles, who apparently had no connection to each other, went to those hospitals for medical care, said Dr. Alfred DeMaria, an infectious disease specialist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. One was a child who had been too young to be vaccinated; the other was an older person who may not have been vaccinated.

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Officials said Mass. General patients were potentially exposed in the medical walk-in clinic August 17 and 19, the emergency department on Aug. 20, and the inpatient areas between Aug. 20 and 23.

Exposures may have occured at MetroWest’s emergency department and inpatient areas on Aug 23 and 24.

The vast majority of people in Massachusetts are immune to measles because they have been vaccinated, or already had the disease, DeMaria said. But the concern is for people who are not immune and may be at risk for serious complications, such as young children, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients.

“We don’t know who’s who, and there are potentially hundreds of people who may have been exposed at these places,” DeMaria said. “We identified as many as we could from hospital records and spent the last four days calling people, but many were difficult to reach.”

The health department is advising anyone who may have been exposed and begins to develop symptoms—fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes—to call their health care provider before visiting an office, clinic or emergency department because that visit may put others at risk of exposure.

Early symptoms of measles occur 10 days to 2 weeks after exposure and may resemble a cold, and a rash occurs on the skin two to four days after the initial symptoms develop. The rash usually appears first on the head and moves downward. The rash typically lasts a few days and then disappears in the same order.

People with measles may be contagious up to four days before the rash appears and for four days after the day the rash appears.

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