The Indiana State Department of Health sent out a statement Feb. 3, two days before the New England Patriots and the New York Giants squared off for Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. The bulletin, which advised "Hoosiers and out-of-town guests" to "Practice Good Health Defense for a Safe Super Bowl Sunday," offered tips about healthful eating, drinking in moderation, keeping warm and storing party foods properly to avoid food-borne illnesses.
Less than a week later, the department circulated another release that touched on a Super Bowl health hazard few had considered: measles, and the importance of vaccination.
State health officials reported two confirmed and two probable cases of the respiratory ailment. One of infected individuals had attended pre-Super Bowl celebrations in downtown Indianapolis on Feb. 3 -- raising the alarming possibility that others at the event who were not up-to-date on their vaccinations or who had not had measles in the past could have been exposed to the virus as well.
That's a concern because measles is highly contagious, said Dr. Edgar Marcuse, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle who is based at Seattle Children's Hospital.
"Unfortunately, even when you have very, very small numbers of people who are susceptible to measles, because it is so contagious, when it is let loose in a crowd it’s very likely" that people will become infected, he said. "This is one of the few diseases where you're sitting in the airport, somebody walks by with it, and you get it."
Measles can cause serious complications. The only way to protect yourself completely is to get immunized, Marcuse said. People who have received two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, spaced at least one month apart, should be protected for life. He noted that the association between the MMR vaccine and autism has been shown not only to be false, but to be fraudulent.
For more on the effects of forgoing vaccination, Marcuse recommends a 2008 episode of the radio program "This American Life" that tells the story of an outbreak in San Diego.
Health officials in Indiana will have to monitor the situation closely for several weeks, because it can take as long as 21 days for infected people to develop measles symptoms, Marcuse said.
"This thing has legs," he added.