Southwest Airlines Passengers on Four Separate Flights May Have Been Exposed to Measles

A Southwest Airlines passenger who took four flights in two days and was later diagnosed with measles may have spread the viral infection to fellow fliers.

The airline is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to warn passengers on the four Texas flights in late August that they may have been exposed to measles. The flights include two on Tuesday, Aug. 21 (Flight 5 from Dallas Love Field to Houston Hobby and Flight 9 from Houston Hobby to Harlingen, Texas) and two on Wednesday, Aug. 22 (Flight 665 from Harlingen to Houston and Flight 44 from Houston Hobby to Dallas Love Field), according to USA Today. 

“Our safety and security groups worked with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to support the agency’s work in reaching our customers who traveled onboard four intra-Texas flights last week with a passenger later diagnosed with measles,” Southwest Airlines said in a statement, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We’ve shared awareness of the situation and protocols with our employees who also were onboard these aircraft.”

The airline is not releasing the identity of the traveler with measles, a Southwest Airlines spokesman added.

According to NBC 5 in Dallas, which broke the story, passengers on the flights received a letter from the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department instructing them to look out for potential symptoms until Sept. 11, since the incubation period can be up to three weeks.

The first symptoms of measles typically come 7 to 14 days after infection, and include a high fever, runny nose, cough and red eyes. As the disease progresses, an infected person starts to get small spots in their mouth, and then rashes all over the body, along with a fever that can go higher than 104 degrees.

The measles virus is particularly dangerous for nonvaccinated children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems, The Mercury News reported. The newspaper also noted that, according to the World Health Organization, measles is a global leading cause of death for children under 5.

Vaccinations remain a priority as the Centers for Disease Control reported last month that there have been 107 cases of measles between Jan. 1 and July 14 in 21 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. The majority of people who  contracted the disease were unvaccinated, the CDC said.

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Measles outbreaks in the U.S. typically start after a traveler returns from areas in the world where the disease is still common, such as Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa, and spreads in areas with unvaccinated people.

In March, state officials in Michigan and New Jersey had to issue warnings to travelers who may have come in contact with people who brought the measles back after traveling.

Axios reported that, with cases of measles in Europe hitting a record-high of more than 40,000 in the first six months of 2018, it’s possible that more measles cases are being imported from there into the U.S.

Axois also noted that western states with strong anti-vaccine movements, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Texas, are particularly susceptible to outbreaks due to low vaccine coverage — “in some cases, well below the 90 to 95 percent immunization rates needed to achieve adequate herd immunity for measles.”

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