AUSTIN, Texas - Federal officials notified the state shortly after an Austin man got sick while in Virginia. That notification triggered a coordinated community-wide alert, according to Dr. Mark Escott with Austin Public Health.
"The priority for us right now is to contain this as much as possible,” said Escott.
The incubation time period for the measles virus runs about 10 to 12 days, which is why those who were exposed may not start showing symptoms until Jan. 1.
"Measles can be challenging to diagnose, particularly during flu season, because many of the symptoms that happen before the rash appears are absolutely the same as flu,” said Escott.
The man with the measles flew out of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on a United Airlines flight on Dec. 17. Apparently he was not showing signs of the illness at the time. He traveled first to Chicago and then boarded a connection to Virginia.
"Most people will recover without complications, but there are complications,” said Escott.
The health department released a list of locations the man visited starting Dec. 14. Several are along West Palmer Lane in northwest Austin, including Chipotle Mexican Grill, H-E-B, and Sip Saam Thai. Others include Target and Marco's Pizza on Research Boulevard, as well as Mandola's Italian in the Triangle. Some employees, like a man who FOX7 is not revealing his identity, said they were just finding out.
"Everybody's kind of on edge and our managers talked about it with us this morning so we are all are just looking to take care of it and hope it clears up,” said the employee.
The sites are no longer contaminated, according to Escott, and were made public only to locate people.
"Those locations are concerning, while this individual was there, and up to two hours after he left, this is because the measles virus can live on surfaces and in the air for quite some time,” said Escott.
Passengers on the United flights are being contacted. Escott advised anyone who visited the Austin locations during the three-day time period should contact their doctor if they start feeling sick.
"We say contact the medical provider because we don’t want folks just showing up at clinics and potentially infecting other people in the waiting room, so it’s quite crucial they contact their provider first,” said Escott.
Health officials declined to identify the man, citing federal privacy regulations, but he apparently contracted the measles while on a recent trip to Europe. The busy scene at the airport Monday explains why there's so much concern and why so much remains unknown.
"We do know from a study that was published earlier by the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, that the prediction is that a measles case in Austin may result in an outbreak of 400 cases,” said Escott.
This is the first case of measles in Austin in 20 years. It comes at a time with the number of cases in the nation and across the globe have spiked. Health officials blame the anti-vaccination movement for the increase.
For more information on the measles virus, visit the City of Austin's Website.