Alaska News

Fairbanks man who traveled to Mongolia has measles, Alaska's first case in 15 years

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on Tuesday confirmed the state's first measles case since 2000 and urged Alaskans to review and update their vaccinations.

Health officials say a middle-aged Fairbanks man likely contracted measles while traveling in Mongolia. He left Mongolia on May 29 and traveled through Seoul, South Korea, said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, chief of the Alaska Section of Epidemiology.

The man then spent a night and most of May 30 in Seattle before leaving for Alaska on a 9 p.m. flight. His flight landed in Fairbanks at 12:30 a.m. May 31 and did not stop in Anchorage, McLaughlin said.

Several days after arriving in Fairbanks, the man developed a rash. On Tuesday, laboratory tests confirmed he had measles, McLaughlin said.

The state health department warned Tuesday that those who have not received the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, or those who have not previously had measles could be at risk of infection if they were at any of the locations the man visited between May 31 and June 6.

"It's one of the most contagious infectious diseases on the planet," McLaughlin said. It spreads "very easily" by air and by direct contact, the state health department said.

A person typically develops symptoms of measles seven to 21 days after exposure to the virus. The infection usually begins with a mild to moderate fever accompanied by a cough, runny nose and red eyes. Two or three days later, the fever spikes and the red, blotchy rash appears, the health department said in a statement.

Those infected with measles can spread the virus up to four days before and after the onset of the rash, McLaughlin said.

Health officials have listed the following Fairbanks places where the man traveled while infectious:

• May 31: Fairbanks International Airport and Walmart

• May 31 through June 7: University of Alaska Fairbanks

• June 2: Fred Meyer West

• June 4: Fred Meyer East, Home Depot, Walgreens East and Avis Rent-a-Car

• June 5: Social Security Office at the Fairbanks Federal Building, Old Navy and Famous Footwear

• June 6: Emergency department at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital

McLaughlin said anyone present at those locations on those days should first check their vaccination history.

"If they aren't up to date, they should become up to date as soon as possible," he said.

People should call a health care provider if symptoms arise. They should not go directly to the provider's office, McLaughlin said.

The health department is asking people not immune to measles to stay away from hospitals, nursing homes and large gatherings during the seven- to 21-day span after the possible exposure.

In April 2000, the state health department confirmed Alaska's previous measles case in a 33-year-old Anchorage woman. A school-based outbreak occurred in Anchorage in 1998 that infected 33 people, mostly children, according to the state health department.

In 1996, the department confirmed 63 cases of measles in Juneau after four children and a teacher at an elementary school were infected. It largely spread through school contact.

McLaughlin reported that a nonimmune person who comes in contact with measles has a 90 percent chance of becoming infected.

He said the infected man in Fairbanks reported he had gotten the MMR vaccine, but there was no verification that he had.

On Tuesday, McLaughlin said the man was no longer infectious and remained at his home in Fairbanks.

The health department recommends children receive the first dose of the MMR vaccine at age 1 and the second dose starting at age 4. Women should not get the vaccine during pregnancy, McLaughlin said.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.