Rare, contagious disease makes it's way back to Region 8

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - A highly contagious, possibly deadly disease that was thought to have been eradicated from the United States made it's way back into Region 8 in May.

According to the Arkansas Department of Health, a 52 year old West Memphis woman contracted the disease during a three month trip to India. Once she returned to Arkansas, she traveled to White Hall, Sheridan, Proctor and West Memphis to eat and visit with family. Family Practitioner Dr. Shane Speights said the disease can be very dangerous.

"This can be a very deadly disease that can actually cause a lot of problems, in our young people especially," Speights said.

However, those who become infected with the measles usually won't know it at first. The first symptoms they see are like that of the common cold. The incubation period for the disease can run anywhere from 7 to 18 days.

"A runny nose, watery itchy eyes, you can be fatigued. A lot of common symptoms that people have during cold or flu season," Speights said. "You can be sick for awhile and shedding the disease and passing it along to others and not even know you're sick yet."

That oftentimes makes it difficult for doctors to diagnose the disease early on. Speights said most doctors nowadays have never actually seen a patient with the measles. It's when patients develop a full body rash that they realize what it is.

"Many health care providers and doctors may not even recognize it initially because it's so rare."

The disease is so rare, in fact, that in 2000, Arkansas only reported one case of the measles. In 2008, two cases were reported. But lately, there's been a dramatic increase in the number of reports. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control reported over 220 cases nationwide, compared to the 60 reports a year they'd been seeing.

Speights said a big role player in the rise in measles is a lack in vaccinations.

"As always, when it comes to a virus like this, if there's a vaccine. Get the vaccine. That's the way you're protected," he said.

If you're unsure if you're protected, a simple trip to your doctor will answer the question.

"They can check lab work to see if your levels are normal and they can give you a booster vaccine if needed."

According to the Health Department, they are investigating the case in Arkansas to make sure the people the woman came into contact with don't also contract the disease.

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