By Susan Guyett
INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Health officials in Indiana were on alert on Thursday after five measles cases were confirmed in Noble County in the northeastern part of the state.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Gregory Larkin said his department had dispatched workers to seven nearby counties in northern Indiana to identify any additional cases of the highly contagious disease and to prevent its spread.
The workers have also been given additional doses of the measles vaccine. Individuals who have been exposed to an infected person can obtain the vaccine at no cost, according to a statement released by Larkin's office.
"With measles, even one case is considered an outbreak," Larkin said.
Indiana is the latest state to find itself tracking down measles victims as the once rare disease makes its way back into the public.
An outbreak in Northern Utah forced a power plant to turn away workers earlier this week after a local resident was diagnosed. Utah also had an earlier measles outbreak this spring in the Salt Lake City Area.
The Vermont Department of Health issued a measles alert on Tuesday after a suspected case turned up in a young child in Washington County and an alert went out in April in New Jersey.
Measles is highly contagious and can be transmitted even though the person with measles isn't showing a rash.
Measles can cause serious complications, including encephalitis, pneumonia and in rare cases brain damage or death.
Unvaccinated individuals may avoid contracting the disease if they receive the vaccine within 72 hours of the last exposure.
Those with compromised immune systems, infants under 12 months old and pregnant women can receive immune globulin within six days of exposure.
"I cannot stress enough that the best protection against measles is to get vaccinated," Larkin said.
The first sign of measles is usually fever, runny nose, cough and red eyes that appear 7-10 days after exposure. The rash on the face and upper back begins two to four days later.
The measles virus kills nearly 200,000 people each year around the world and is the leading cause of death among children in developing counties.
The United States and Canada reduced the number of measles case to nearly zero in recent decades with childhood vaccinations but that number is starting to rise again, according to the National Institutes of Health.
(Editing by James B. Kelleher)