Meetings Focus checked in with Drew Maurano, director of event medicine for the George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates Department of Emergency Medicine, regarding the current measles outbreak that originated in Southern California.

Maurano heads the Event Medicine program that has been providing consultation and staffing solutions for some of the largest events throughout the national capital region and for the last 10 years.

Maurano provided the following key information on the basics of the virus, and some handy insights on the steps event hosts and planners can take to try to keep their attendees safe.

The measles virus is a highly contagious virus that is spread through the air by breathing, coughing, or sneezing and can remain on surfaces or in the air for up to 2 hours. Symptoms of measles are rash, high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes.

The virus is contagious for about four days prior and after the rash breaks out. About 90% of individuals exposed will get sick, unless they are immune as a result of having the measles or having been vaccinated. It is possible to catch measles just by walking into a room where an infected person was recently. Besides the virus's high infection rate, some people who become sick with measles can develop further complications such as severe ear infection that can lead to deafness in a small percentages of people and lung infections such as pneumonia.

Very severe cases, although rare, can also cause swelling of the brain and even death. Measles can be especially severe in infants and in people who are malnourished or who have weakened immune systems (such as from HIV infection, cancer or from certain drugs).

Measles has been spreading in the United States at a rate that worries health officials, with 102 cases so far this year in at least 14 states. This recent outbreak is believed to have begun at Disneyland in California in December, 2014. In 2000, measles was eliminated from the United States with no cases originating in the U.S, but in 2013, worldwide there were about 20 million cases a year with approximately 145,700 deaths.

The current outbreak is thought to be due to travelers entering in the United States and transmitting it to people who have not been vaccinated.

In 2013 the CDC reported 91.9% of all Americans were covered with the MMR vaccination. In the same report 1 in every 12 children in the US were electing not to received their first dose of the MMR vaccine on time, underscoring the susceptibility across the country. 10 states did report coverage levels ≥95%, although 17 states have ≥1 MMR dose coverage below the Healthy People 2020 target of 90%

Preventing New Infections

If you've already had measles or have been fully vaccinated with 2 MMR vaccines your body has built up its immune system to fight the infection, and you can't get measles again.

Most people born or living in the United States before 1957 are immune to measles, simply because they've already had it.

If you have never had an MMR vaccine, what can you do to prevent transmission?

1) If able, receive the measles vaccine as soon as possible.

2) If unable to be vaccinated you should:

a. Wash your hands often.

b. If soap and water aren’t available, clean your hands with hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol).

c. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.

d. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.

e. Try to avoid close contact, such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups, with people who are sick.

If you are hosting an event, what can you do?

1) Provide information to all staff and participants prior to the event regarding the outbreak and risks to participants.

2) Provide information to all staff and participants prior to the event to stay home if they feel ill or have symptoms. Someone with suspected or confirmed measles should stay home for at least 4 days from the outbreak of their rash.

3) Participants should be aware of the outbreak and try to limit handshaking if they have not been vaccinated.

 4) Practice comprehensive event site hygiene and ensure all tabletops, door knobs and surfaces are being wiped down with disinfectant throughout the day.

5) Provide your participants with hand sanitizer, appropriate access to bathrooms with running water, tissues and masks for those who develop cold like symptoms while at the event.

6) Vendors should also be asked to take similar precautions.

7) Event planners should review and follow their local health department's recommendations and contact their local health department regarding specific questions or concerns.

Additional Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Measles and Measles Cases and Outbreaks.