Free measles vaccines are being offered in North Carolina after a breakout of eight cases this week.
Stokes and Orange counties appear to be where the cases started occurring, in the northwestern region of the state.
Three adults and five children have come down with the disease since the first case was reported on April 4. That first person had just returned from a trip to India.
The state laboratory confirmed the diagnosis on April 16, with health care providers being informed the next day by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
“Measles spreads quickly, particularly in children and adults who aren’t vaccinated,” State Health Director Dr. Laura Gerald said. “We want to make the public aware of this outbreak so individuals can take steps to protect themselves and their families.”
Dr. Gerald also said that measles are “very uncommon” in North Carolina. Since 2000, measles have been rare in the U.S., with only 50 reported cases a year on average, mostly coming from international travelers. Wales has been suffering from an outbreak since November 2012, with 942 cases of measles accounted for.
Early symptoms of measles are similar to the common cold and the flu: a runny nose, fever and coughing. But as the infection develops over a few days, a rash appears on the victim's forehead, and eventually spreads to the whole body. It can then cause pneumonia, and even death.
Measles is spread through the air by coughing and sneezing and can also be transmitted by physical contact.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that before the measles vaccine was available, the infection took about 450 lives every year. It also caused roughly 1,000 cases of brain damage and hearing loss, with 48,000 hospitalizations.
The MMR vaccine, which treats measles, mumps and rubella is said to have reduced cases of measles in the U.S. by about 99 percent. Children typically get two doses and it can be given as soon as a child is one year old.
“[The] vaccine is readily available. Anyone interested in getting vaccinated should contact their primary health care provider or their local health department,” Gerald said.