The Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and public health officials on the Vineyard have issued a widespread measles alert following a diagnosis of the highly contagious disease in an unvaccinated child visiting the Island from another state. The child was evaluated at the hospital emergency room on Wednesday, June 17. State health officials confirmed that this is the second case of measles in the commonwealth this year.

Free vaccination clinics are scheduled for tonight and tomorrow from 5 to 9 p.m. in the old doctor's wing at the hospital. The hospital asks people attending the clinic to enter through the Eastville entrane behind the hospital.

“While the child was immediately identified and subsequently isolated from the community, we know that individuals on the Island were exposed to the virus during a phase of the illness in which the patient is infectious but has no symptoms,” the hospital said in the alert posted on its website.

According to the hospital alert, known locations where exposures to others are likely to have occurred include:

The West Tisbury public library on June 8, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; the Aquinnah Library on Tuesday, June 9 from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and again on Thursday, June 11 from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Laundromat in West Tisbury on Friday, June 12 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; Sharky’s Cantina in Oak Bluffs on Tuesday June 16, from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., and Ryan Family Amusements in Oak Bluffs on June 16, from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) sent out an alert Wednesday that the individual with measles was at the Chilmark School playground and the Chilmark library on Monday, June 8 from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. This is an update to an earlier alert, which said the exposure took place in those places on June 17. That exposure did not occur, the DPH said.

Vineyard library directors announced late Tuesday that the annual summer reading kickoff for children at the Agricultural Hall Saturday morning has been cancelled out of precaution.

Island public schools have sent alerts to parents.

Dr. Jeffrey Zack, chief of emergency medicine at the hospital, said the patient was considered infectious from Monday, June 8 through Wednesday, June 17.

“There is certainly a lot of concern, folks wanting information,” Dr. Zack told the Gazette in a telephone interview Monday. “We would like to make sure the public understands if they have questions they should contact their primary care doctor. The one thing we don’t want is people coming into the hospital or into the doctor’s office if they think they have measles. Letting someone into the building can make it an infectious area, at least for a couple of hours. It’s most important not to spread this within the hospital,” he said.

The hospital has set up a measles hotline at 508-957-0117 and scheduled the free vaccination clinics.

People under the age of 58 who have not been vaccinated, have not had measles in the past, or do not have blood work indicating immunity to the disease should attend the clinic, the Martha’s Vineyard Boards of Health said in a press release. People born before 1957 are likely to have immunity to the disease, according to information from the DPH.

Hospital staff are working with the DPH to deliver responsible communications to the public and are following a protocol for public response to a measles diagnosis.

“We have staff members stationed outside the emergency room waiting area, to inform and hopefully guide anybody who might be showing symptoms to the appropriate place,” said Rachel Vanderhoop, a spokesman for the hospital. 
She said doctors will screen people who are concerned about exposure over the phone, then decide whether to refer patients to the emergency room.

“The emergency room will be alerted, and you will be brought in through a decontamination entrance, and the staff will be properly dressed in precaution suits,” Ms. Vanderhoop said. “It’s a safer way to bring somebody who might have been exposed into the hospital.”

Anyone who suspects a case of measles should not go to the doctor’s office or the hospital, but instead should call their primary care physician and follow the doctor’s instructions.

High fever, a rash that begins on the head, or a runny nose and cough are all possible symptoms that should result in a call to a doctor. The hospital also recommends calling a doctor if you or your child are not vaccinated, or unsure of immunization status.

Measles can cause serious problems such as ear infections, pneumonia and swelling of the brain in some people, especially pregnant women, infants, and people with weakened immune systems, public health officials. In rare cases, measles can lead to death. Adults are also at increased risk. The virus that causes measles lives in the nose and throat and is sprayed into the air when an infected person coughs or talks, health officials said. The virus can stay in the air for up to two hours.

The Island has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the state, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health confirmed earlier this year.

Dr. Zack said the confirmed case demonstrates the vulnerability of an isolated community that sees a huge influx of summer visitors. “We live in a very small world,” Dr. Zack said. “We’re at risk, no matter where we live. We’re about to hit high season and we’re getting people from all over the place.

“This is sort of an opportunity to reeducate everyone to the risks and benefits of vaccination,” he said. “The problem is when you don’t see a disease like measles for 50 years, people forget about the repercussions and why we started vaccinating in the first place. It killed thousands and thousands of people before vaccinations. We don’t want to see those days, obviously, again.”