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Children's Mercy, University of Kansas Hospital talk measles control

Posted at 5:05 PM, Apr 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-04 19:49:28-04

JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. — A measles outbreak in eastern Kansas is up to 15 cases, while another, unrelated case popped up at the University of Kansas Health System. 

Both University of Kansas Hospital and Children's Mercy Hospital Kansas have been listed as exposure sites for the highly-contagious disease.

That means two of the area's largest health providers are now on high alert.

"When we hear of one case of measles, we know there is not just one case of measles. There are always more," Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, Director of Infectious Diseases at Children's Mercy Hospital, said.

The emergency department at their Kansas hospital was listed as an exposure site after an infected person visited on March 8 and March 10. However, Dr. Jackson said the institution isn't out of the woods until two incubation periods have passed without new cases, which means roughly 42 days.

Perhaps most concerning for officials, is the danger the virus presents to the people being treated there.

"Especially those babies between 6 and 12 months are at risk, but we also have children in our institution who have cancer, transplants, or are receiving other immunosuppressant therapies and can't receive the vaccine," Dr. Jackson explained.

Infection control experts have a very specific protocol when it comes to measles. Staff suit up in protective gear before entering measles patients' rooms, which also have special ventilation systems.

"It's a higher rate of air turnover, and it also gets vented directly to the outside, rather than circulating within the hospital," Tom Button, Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Children's Mercy said.

The hospital even has a special procedure for admitting measles patients. A staff member meets the infected individual at his or her car and escorts the patient into the facility to their specialized room, preventing exposure to other patients.

Over at the University of Kansas Health System, experts are dealing with the aftermath of a different outbreak. State health officials report a Missouri patient contracted measles while traveling outside the U.S., then visited the hospital.

"We're always concerned when anyone with a possible infectious disease has been in the hospital, but it was recognized very quickly. They did not spend very much time in the waiting room. We really did our best to keep the patient in isolation," Dr. Tim Williamson, the University of Kansas Health System's VP of Quality and Safety said.

The measles patient visited the emergency room waiting and patient care areas on March 23, as well as a unit for medical telemetry and cystic fibrosis. The cafeteria is also listed as an exposure site for March 25.

Both health systems said they used standard disinfecting techniques to clean the rooms where measles patients have been. The virus can live on surfaces and in the air for up to two hours, so staff at Children's Mercy Hospital close off the room and wait until that period of time has passed before cleaning.

If you think you have been exposed, do not show up to the emergency room or your doctor's office without calling first, so they can take the necessary precautions to prevent exposure to others.