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State Investigating Five Measles Cases In Tenn.

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  The federal government declared measles eradicated in 2000.  But news out of Nashville today would suggest the disease is anything but gone.

The Tennessee Department of Health says it's currently investigating five cases of the highly-contagious disease.  At this point, it seems to be confined to Madison, Shelby, Gibson, Hamilton and Hardeman counties.  But health officials warn it can easily spread from one person to another days before any physical symptoms actually appear.  In addition, it can remain airborne or live on surfaces for up to two hours.

Investigators believe the five cases in Tennessee are connected.  The first patient appears to have contracted the disease while traveling abroad and infected the other four.  TDH officials say they are investigating anyone who may have had contact with any of the five patients.  

In response, the Health Department has sent an alert out to Tennessee doctors and health care providers to remain on the lookout for patients who display any of the symptoms.   Symptoms include a blotchy rash, fever, watery eyes, a runny nose and white spots in the mouth.  Some patients will also develop ear infections, diarrhea and pneumonia.   In some cases, the disease can be fatal.

Aggressive immunization programs have nearly eliminated the disease in the U.S., but it still thrives in other parts of the world.  For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 6,000 cases have been confirmed in the Philippines alone this year and the country could have as many as 26,000 unconfirmed cases.

Most of the outbreaks in the U.S. result when international travelers become infected overseas and bring the virus back home.  So far in 2014, the CDC reports 187 cases in 17 states.  

Health officials say a vaccination is the most effective method of preventing the disease.  “While many recent cases are linked to travel to other countries where measles immunizations programs are not on par with the United States, almost anyone of any age, at any place, can be exposed to the measles virus," says Tennessee State Epidemiologist Tim Jones. "While you may not go out of the country, you may come in contact with people who do. Being properly vaccinated is critical in preventing measles.”