Travelers transiting through Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in February 2019 may have been exposed to measles.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported that a person infected with the disease arrived at LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal on a China Eastern Airlines flight on February 21 before catching a Delta flight out of Terminal 3 the same day.

There is currently no known risk of catching measles at LAX, according to the county health department, because the period of possible exposure has passed.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus and most commonly spread through coughing or sneezing. Symptoms can include rash, high fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes.  

The people most at risk are those who have not been vaccinated against the illness, which is 97 percent effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

With a disease such as measles, the primary method of prevention is vaccination. The CDC states that “the MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

"The current recommendation is for children get two doses of MMR vaccine and teens and adults should also be up to date on their MMR vaccination.”

There are several reasons why people may not be vaccinated or are immune to the vaccine.

According to the CDC, about three out of 100 people who get the two doses of the vaccine will still get measles if exposed to the virus. Other reasons why people aren’t vaccinated include a history of allergies and autoimmune diseases, as well as a weakened or failing immune system.

How to Protect Yourself and Attendees From the Measles and Other Airborne Diseases

When we hear about exposures in very public places, especially in locations such as an airport, where many of us in the meetings and events industry frequent, it can cause alarm.

What can we do to best protect ourselves and our attendees at meetings and events?

[Related Content: How to Avoid the Flu at Meetings and Events]

An exposure to airborne diseases occurs when a person is in the same confined space with a carrier of the disease. For measles, an exposure is defined as being with or near someone who has measles and occupying the same space with that person.

The exposure period extends to up to two hours after the infected person has left.

Because some people are either immune to the vaccine or cannot be vaccinated, we rely on herd immunity, or community immunity. The idea is simply that by having a majority of people vaccinated against a certain disease, it is harder for it to spread and become an outbreak.

Like most illnesses, exposure of measles cannot be completely avoided, but we can take additional steps to help prevent the spread of the disease for those that are not vaccinated, such as:

  • Washing hands frequently. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand rub that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid sharing items such as utensils, straws (if they’re even still around) and water bottles as well as electronics like cell phones, tablets and laptops.

For even more tips, check out  3 Tips for Better Meetings Hygiene with examples of ways planners can help prevent the spread of not just measles, but all airborne illnesses.