At least 23 Beijingers have been infected with the measles after an outbreak occurred at the Kaiheng Centre in Chaoyangmen January 22.

"To prevent the epidemic from spreading, [we have] already vaccinated the 3,462 workers in the building,” the South China Morning Post quoted a spokesperson from The Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which seems to have a knack for offering up information not when it would have been helpful to have it (like a week ago when the outbreak occurred), but a week later with a "we got it under control folks" angle.

The Center went on to say that it has ordered a quarantine and doled out vaccinations in the Chaoyangmen neighbourhood surrounding the building, which is located on the southwest corner of Chaoyangmen on the Second Ring Road.

But before you get all SARS about it and head for the airport on that one way ticket home, rest assured this is not the new black plague: I've survived measles in Beijing.

I'm guessing this was late winter or early spring of 1998. I know it was the day before I was supposed to leave to see Metallica play in Seoul -- I even had a ticket for the front row, magically arranged through a Korea-based friend of a friend.

All that week at work, in the afternoon, I would start to feel fatigued and feverish. Each day for about four days, it got worse. The day before this day in question, I felt so hot and tired that I left work early to go home and sleep. On that morning in question, I woke up, feeling better but not 100 percent. My roommate took a look at me and said, "You don't look well. You should go to the doctor."

I shrugged it off, thinking that people in China run to the hospital at the drop of a hat. Slowly I got up out of bed and went to the bathroom to brush my teeth.

When I looked in the mirror, I saw spots. Not the kind of spots you see after you hit your head or get up too quickly. These were spots all over my face. I had seen spots like this before, when I had chicken pox at age eight. But I had already had chicken pox, which are rarely contracted twice. Suddenly I was afraid I had measles.

I took a shower, got dressed, and put on a baseball cap. The hat would allow me to walk head down, and go unnoticed by anyone in front of me, including all my nosy, elderly neighbors, and whatever taxi driver picked me up. I hailed a cab and asked to go to what was then called Asia Emergency Assistance (AEA), now part of International SOS. Their clinic was very close to where the SOS facility is now, near the Tayuan Diplomatic Compound.

I still felt more fever than I did any particular itch. As I walked into the clinic, I saw a doctor I knew, and addressed him by name. "Oh my god. We better get you into a room," he said. He guided me immediately into an examination room without even registering me. He closed the door, then reappeared shortly afterward wearing a mask, gloves, and eye protection. The doctor then asked me a series of questions. Had I had chicken pox before? Did I know anyone else who had exhibited symptoms? How long had I been experiencing the fatigue and fever? Weren't you inoculated for measles?

Yes, I had been inoculated. In fact, I remember my high school principal pulling me out of class one day, and telling me, "If you don't get your vaccinations this afternoon, I am not letting you into the building tomorrow." I went that afternoon, as instructed, and got my shots.

We were joined by another doctor who examined me for swollen glands. From Hong Kong originally, he said, "you see the damnedest things here in China. Last week someone came in with mumps. Who gets mumps anymore?"

I did not have any friends or co-workers I knew that had or shown signs of measles, and even after I had had it, did not know of anyone else who contracted it. It took about four days before the fever subsided and the spots began to go away. I stayed at home those four days, then went back to work, rather sheepishly as I looked like some kind of diseased leopard. My roommate was exposed to me, but never got the meales.

There isn't much you can do for measles except try not to infect the people around you. It feels like a low-grade flu. It's not particularly itchy although I gather it can be. There's just a creeping fear that the spots will never go away, or that somehow each measle will leave a scar. Neither was true, and after 10 days, no one would have known that I had it.

I missed the Metallica show, though. That part really sucked. Stupid measles. Anyway, get vaccinated if you haven't been already.

-- Kyle Mullin contributed to this report.

Photo: Wikimedia

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