The World Cup is an event that is highly anticipated by many avid soccer fans, including a large number of U.S. citizens. This time, though, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a warning for the large contingents of soccer tourists traveling to and from Germany, where the 2006 games are being held.
In the past six months, there have been almost 1,200 reported cases of measles in an area that is hosting some of the games — North Rhine-Westphalia. Specific cities of concern on the World Cup tour include Cologne, Dortmund, and Gelsenkirchen. The risk of a disease such as measles transmitting from person to person is particularly high during an event such as the World Cup, when large groups of people gather together in close quarters.
The virus responsible for the measles is spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets containing the virus can be infectious for a couple of hours, which means that you might contract the disease by touching a doorknob or other surface.
Although you might think of the measles (a.k.a. rubeola) as a skin rash, it is actually a viral respiratory illness that is very contagious. It does cause a blotchy red or brown rash that spreads down the body, usually starting on the face.
However, the first symptoms are often confused with the flu, including fever (this will show up before the other signs), runny nose, cough, and pinkeye symptoms. If you have measles, you might also develop “Koplik’s spots,” which are small, red spots with blue-white centers that pop up inside your mouth.
The disease is not something you want to experience, but It’s the complications that are particularly concerning. Up to 20% of measles sufferers develop a painful ear infection, diarrhea, or pneumonia. In severe cases of the measles — one or two out of every 1,000 — the illness can lead to lethal brain inflammation. People who are most at risk for these complications are those with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, and children.
Nowadays, due to our immunization programs, there are very few cases of measles in the U.S., and the ones that do crop up are imported from outside the country. However, in the rest of the world, including Europe, outbreaks can be common.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you should panic if you or your loved ones have just returned from the World Cup. The CDC simply wants travelers to be aware of the risk, so they can recognize any signs of illness and limit the spread of the virus.
So, what should you do if you’ve been to Germany (or any other area with a recent measles outbreak) in the past few months? First, check your immunization records to see if you’re protected. Chances are you’ve had the measles vaccine as a child. Second, watch for the aforementioned symptoms. If you do have any symptoms, try to quarantine yourself so that you do not put others at risk.
Of course, you must see a doctor if you think you might have the measles — but call ahead and let them know you might be infectious, so they have a chance to clear the office of other patients. Don’t forget to mention that you’ve traveled to Germany recently.