(Nashville, TN) A statewide alert has been sent to medical workers in Tennessee about measles.
The Tennessee Department of Health is investigating five confirmed cases of measles, mostly in west Tennessee.
Those cases are in Madison, Shelby, Gibson, Hamilton and Hardeman counties.
The last time Shelby County had a case was in 1998.
"The state had been working diligently to identify contacts," said Dr. Helen Morrow with the Shelby County Health Department.
The health department says the original patient became infected about two week ago while traveling to the Philippines.
The measles was eradicated in the United States in 2000, but already this year there have 187 confirmed cases in this country.
There were 189 in all of 2013.
While the majority of those who have contracted the disease have been international travelers, health experts are also blaming the rise in new cases each year to the anti-vaccination movement.
It's recommended that all children get a series of measles shots before they enter kindergarten.
"We have certain people in our population that do not believe in vaccines and have chosen not to get the vaccine. So, we have an even younger population that could be susceptible, " said Dr. Morrow.
Health experts say even though the measles was eradicated here, we are just a plane ride away from countries where it's still a big problem.
This year, there have been more than 26,000 cases in the Philippines.
The Tennessee Department of Health says all international travelers, of all ages should be up to date on their immunizations.
People in other counties may have been exposed.
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, "The measles cases in Tennessee appear to have started with one traveler who was exposed to the illness in another country. The other four cases are individuals who were known to have been in close contact with the first patient."
While the focus is currently on five counties, all Tennesseans should be aware of their vulnerability.
Measles is a highly contagious virus which can stay airborne or live on surfaces for up to two hours.
"Recently infected people may not have any symptoms of illness, but can transmit the virus for about five days before the typical rash appears. Symptoms of measles usually appear within one to two weeks after exposure and may include a blotchy rash, runny nose, fever, aches, watery eyes and white spots in the mouth. Nearly one in three patients will develop ear infections, diarrhea or pneumonia."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates measles caused 164,000 deaths worldwide as recently as 2008.
Safe and effective vaccinations are readily available across Tennessee to prevent measles.
For more information about measles, visit www.cdc.gov/measles/index.html.