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UMass Boston professor may be 5th measles case in area

Campus urged to take precautions

By Stephen Smith
Globe Staff / March 2, 2011

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A University of Massachusetts Boston professor is suspected of having measles, the fifth confirmed or suspected case of the highly contagious disease to be reported in the past two weeks, city health authorities said last night.

The faculty member, who is in his 40s and teaches about 45 students, informed university officials Monday that he had been diagnosed with a possible case of the respiratory illness, heralded by a fever, cough, runny nose, and telltale rash.

The university and the Boston Public Health Commission are telling students, faculty, and staff who might have had contact with the professor and who have not been vaccinated or previously exposed to the disease to remain close to home for the next three weeks.

It can take that long for doctors to be certain that someone is not carrying the disease.

“Although we believe a limited number of people may have been exposed, we encourage our entire campus community to take precautions,’’ UMass Boston administrators said in a statement.

Measles vaccine is being offered by the university’s health services office during regular hours in hope of forestalling a possible outbreak.

There was no immediate evidence that the professor, who was not identified because of patient confidentiality laws, had contact with a worker at the French Consulate in the Back Bay who tested positive last month for the disease.

There is also no evidence that the professor had traveled outside the United States recently, said Ann Scales, chief spokeswoman for the city health agency.

“There’s a lot of measles going on in different parts of the world, and we’re an international city,’’ Scales said.

The only confirmed case of measles so far involves the French Consulate worker, who arrived in Boston in late January. Three Boston-area adults were identified last week as having symptoms consistent with measles.

Laboratory tests are being performed on those patients, as well as on the UMass professor, to confirm that they have the disease; measles symptoms can mimic those of other infectious diseases.

Most people in the United States have little reason to worry about catching measles. Younger Americans have been widely vaccinated against it, and most older Americans have natural immunity because they were exposed in an era when the disease widely circulated.

Immigrants and travelers from nations where vaccination is less frequent are considered at risk, as are people who received vaccine in the 1960s that was less potent than later formulations.

Disease trackers respond swiftly to potential outbreaks because measles spreads with such speed and ease.

Last week, Boston health authorities immunized 205 people in the Back Bay office building where the French Consulate has offices.

Stephen Smith can be reached at stsmith@globe.com.