In this Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015 file photo, a pediatrician holds a dose of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine at his practice in Northridge, Calif.
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In this Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015 file photo, a pediatrician holds a dose of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine at his practice in Northridge, Calif.

The state health department said Monday that the recent outbreak of measles in Cobb County traces back to one family who contracted the disease earlier this fall.

"Five previously unreported cases of measles in one family in Cobb County occurred in early October," the Georgia Department of Public Health said in a statement.

Officials believe the measles cases are connected to out-of-state travel. All family members are out of the infectious stage, but two more cases of measles have been confirmed.

"These two cases are siblings of a previously confirmed case," DPH said. "These siblings have not been at school, so there are no additional school exposures."

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Unvaccinated individuals who were exposed by a Mabry Middle School student earlier this month are still being kept at home, away from the public during the 21-day incubation period that ends Friday.

Health officials said, as of now, this outbreak is contained to three families in Cobb County, but the virus is surging because of more international travel and lower vaccination rates.

Measles has a better chance of gaining a foothold in communities where vaccination rates have dropped below 93 to 95%, Dr. Amanda Cohn, a senior adviser for vaccines at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NPR in April.

"None of the individuals with measles were vaccinated, or their vaccination status is unclear," DPH said about the Cobb County cases. 

In Georgia, about 90.7% of children receive an MMR vaccination before 35 months of age, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The number of cases in this current outbreak is 11, and the state total for 2019 as of Monday is 18 cases of measles. That's more than double the cases Georgia has seen in the previous decade. The state saw one case of measles in 2015 and two cases in 2012. Before that, there had only been one case each year in 2010 and 2009.

In January, the first three cases of measles in 2019 were confirmed in the Atlanta area.

Measles virus can live in the air and on surfaces for two to three hours and is highly contagious, but the disease can be prevented with a measles, mumps and rubells vaccination (MMR).

DPH Commissioner Dr. Kathleen E. Toomey said these cases of measles should be highly concerning for anyone who is not vaccinated with MMR.

“The current measles outbreak in Georgia is small compared to other outbreaks documented around the country," Toomey said. "However, the toll even a single case of measles takes goes well beyond physical illness — impacting economies, work forces, education, health care systems, and creating a public health burden to protect vulnerable populations.”

Symptoms of measles include:

  • Fever (can be very high)
  • Cough, runny nose and red eyes
  • Tiny white spots on the inner lining of the cheek – also called Koplik’s spots
  • Rash of tiny, red spots that start at the head and spreads to the rest of the body (spots may become joined together as they spread)

"DO NOT go to the doctor’s office, the hospital, or a public health clinic without FIRST calling to let them know about your symptoms," the health department warns.