Passengers on 4 Southwest flights may have been infected with measles — here’s what the highly contagious virus does to your body

Passengers on four Southwest Airlines flights in Texas late last month may have been exposed to measles.

Southwest Airlines


The airline says it is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify passengers who may have come in contact with the virus after a passenger was later diagnosed, ABC’s affiliate in Houston reported.

The disease can kill in rare cases, but vaccinations have reduced cases by 99% in the US since the 1960s.

Passengers on four Southwest flights in Texas late last month may have been exposed to the measles virus.

The airline said some passengers may have shared a flight with someone who was later diagnosed with the highly contagious virus, ABC’s affiliate in Houston reported Thursday.

Southwest says it is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find and contact all the passengers who flew on the four flights that the infected person took, the ABC affiliate, KTRK-TV, reported.

According to the report, those flights were:

The sick passenger stayed in each airport for approximately an hour and didn’t visit any airport restaurants, KTRK-TV reported, citing the Houston Health Department.

The incident is one of a few recent examples of illnesses potentially being spread on planes. Earlier this week, 12 American Airlines passengers on two flights from Europe to Philadelphia fell ill with flu-like symptoms, and 11 Emirates passengers who flew from Dubai to New York were hospitalized with similar symptoms, the CDC said.

Measles is a highly contagious virus that spreads through the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Symptoms usually start with a fever, according to the CDC.

Following the fever, an infected person will get a cough, a runny nose, and itchy, red eyes. After that, a rash of tiny red spots will break out — like chicken pox — and quickly cover the body.

The disease has a 21-day incubation period — meaning anyone who was on one of the four Southwest flights should monitor their symptoms through at least Tuesday.

The measles virus can kill in rare cases. A small percentage of sufferers — one out of 1,000 cases, according to some research — develop encephalitis, or brain swelling, which can lead to long-term brain damage and death.

Vaccinations have gone a long way in reducing the incidence of measles. The CDC recommends that all children between the ages of 12 and 15 months receive an MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Two doses of the MMR vaccine prevent against 97% of measles cases, according to the CDC.

Prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963, around 3 to 4 million people per year contracted the disease in the US. Of those, 400 to 500 people perished and 1,000 developed encephalitis. Since then, measles vaccines have reduced instances of the disease by 99%, according to the CDC, though the disease is still prevalent in other parts of the world.

The disease has no specific treatment, according to the Mayo Clinic, but doctors may prescribe fever reducers to reduce symptoms. For non-immunized people, some doctors recommend a post-exposure vaccine.

According to the CDC, there have been nine outbreaks of measles — defined as three or more cases — in 2018 so far. These outbreaks most commonly happen after an un-vaccinated person travels abroad, then spreads the virus to other un-vaccinated individuals in the US.

In 2018, the CDC has reported 124 cases of measles in the US so far. That’s already higher than the 2017 total of 118 reported cases.


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