What Is Your Protocol to Stop Measles Before Kids in Your Office Get Exposed?

Measles outbreaks have reached record levels this year. Unless you’re prepared, with a strict protocol to stop measles, that could mean that someone could get exposed in your office.

“Many of today’s physicians may never have seen a patient with measles— a disease that can cause serious complications in infants, young children, and adults. CDC is urging all physicians to “think measles” when evaluating patients who have fever and rash, and to know what to do to prevent, control, and report measles cases.”

CDC Asking Physicians to “Think Measles” and Help Stop the Spread

Have you ever seen a child with measles?

What Is Your Protocol to Stop Measles Before Kids in Your Office Get Exposed?

To help everyone understand how important it is to think about measles and prevent unnecessary exposures, it can help to understand what happens when a child with measles does go to their pediatrician, an urgent care center, or the ER.

Part of your protocol to stop measles will be making sure th unvaccinated children exposed to measles are quarantined for at least 21 days.
Unvaccinated children exposed to measles are quarantined for at least 21 days.

Since measles is so contagious and can remain infectious for up to two hours after a person has left a room, with each measles case, you will have to:

  • isolate the person with measles (or suspected measles) in a negative pressure isolation room. If that’s not possible, at least have the person wear a mask in their own private room and/or schedule them at the end of the day, bypassing the waiting room. You might even go out to their car for a quick interview and exam before they come into the office.
  • not use that exam room for at least two hours after the person with measles leaves.
  • report the case to your local health department ASAP, as they will likely have more extra resources to help you manage your patient.
  • locate everyone who could have been exposed, including anyone who was in the same area as the suspected case or entered the area over the next two hours. If they aren’t already immune, these folks might need immune globulin (younger than six months or immunocompromised) or a dose of MMR. They will probably also be quarantined to make sure they don’t develop measles and expose others.
  • only allow those who are immune to measles (two doses of MMR or natural immunity) to take care of the suspected case. Everyone should still wear an N95 respirator or at the very least, a general facemask, just in case.
  • limit anyone else’s exposure as you work to confirm that they have measles (PCR testing of throat swab and urine), provide supportive care as necessary, or quarantine them at home.

Unfortunately, it usually ends up being more than a single exam room that has to be closed when a child shows up with measles. After all, before they got to that exam room, they were probably in the waiting room and other general areas of the office.

And that’s why you will want to have a protocol in place to avoid or minimize these exposures.

Don’t Spread Measles

Of course, that starts with trying to get everyone vaccinated and protected, including an early dose of MMR when appropriate, so that your patients don’t get measles in the first place!

“Failure to promptly identify and appropriately isolate measles cases has led to the investigation of hundreds of healthcare contacts this year. Measles transmission has occurred in emergency departments and other healthcare settings, including transmission to one healthcare worker.”

Recommendations for Measles Case Identification, Measles Infection Control, and Measles Case and Contact Investigations

Next, make sure everyone understands how to recognize the signs and symptoms of measles. Otherwise, some of these kids might unexpectedly end up in your office when they are sick.

The classic measles rash, which begins on the face, typically doesn't begin until these kids have had fever for two or three days.
The classic measles rash, which begins on the face, typically doesn’t begin until these kids have had fever for two or three days. Photo by Jim Goodson, M.P.H.

Think that’s easy? You just watch out for kids with a fever and a rash, right?

Wrong.

If you wait until they have the classic measles rash, you will likely miss the diagnosis the first time they come to your office. Remember, the rash typically doesn’t show up until they have already had a fever for three or four days.

Unfortunately, these kids are contagious well before they have a rash. They are even contagious before they have a fever and know they are sick.

As part of your protocol to stop measles, post a warning sign before parents come into your office.
As part of your protocol to stop measles, post a warning sign before parents come into your office.

So you should suspect measles in kids:

  • with a high fever and cough, coryza, and conjunctivits, even if they don’t yet have a rash
  • with classic measles symptoms who have had a possible exposure. This includes kids who recently traveled out of the country (get a travel history), had contact with international travelers, or just because there are a lot of cases in your area.
  • who are unvaccinated or not completely vaccinated, with two doses of MMR. Keep in mind that even fully vaccinated kids can sometimes get measles though.

And then, if you suspect that a child has measles, work to limit their exposure to others. Patients should know to call ahead. Staff at your office, lab, or the ER should be alerted and ready to see anyone with suspected measles. That way the family knows to wear a mask before going inside.

Ideally, if you have a strong suspicion that the child has measles, this visit will occur in a facility with a negative pressure airborne infection isolation room.

What’s the problem with this kind of protocol?

Lots of kids have fever and rashes! And since you can’t send everyone that calls with adenovirus, roseola, or hand, foot and mouth disease to the ER, part of your protocol should likely be that a health care professional carefully assesses the child’s signs, symptoms, and risks for measles before deciding what to do.

Mostly, be suspicious if a child has returned from a trip oversees, especially if they are unvaccinated, and they have a febrile illness.

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