Public Health

California-Based Measles Outbreak Reported in 14 States

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Throughout the month of January, approximately 84 individuals from 14 different states were reported to have contracted measles as part of a larger outbreak. A majority of these cases are part of a series that originated in the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California. The outbreak is still ongoing, with at least 50 of the measles cases in California linked to Disneyland, while at least 13 cases in other states are linked to the outbreak.

The measles outbreak surfaced among Disneyland visitors who came down with the virus after visiting the park between December 15 and December 20, and cases have continued to be reported since. The measles virus has affected at least five Disneyland employees. Dr. Gil Chavez, deputy director of the Center for Infectious Diseases in California, the state with the highest number of reported cases, has recommended that people who have never had a measles vaccination and children under 12 months do not visit the park while the outbreak is ongoing. Dr. Chavez also recommended that individuals in those categories stay away from places such as airports and shopping malls where large crowds are likely to be present.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued an official Health Advisory to notify public health departments and healthcare facilities about the outbreak and to provide guidance about treatment of the disease. Measles is a respiratory illness caused by an airborne virus similar to influenza. It is highly contagious and may be spread through bodily fluids or through the air when a carrier coughs or sneezes. Symptoms include fever, dry cough, runny nose, skin rash, red eyes, sore throat and little white spots inside the mouth. After the initial symptoms, comes an uncomfortable spot-like rash that covers much of the body. Complications from measles are relatively common, and are usually more severe in adults who catch the virus.

Measles is common around the world, with 20 million new cases reported yearly around the globe. In 2000, the United States declared that measles was eliminated from this country, but travelers with measles can continue to bring the disease to American shores. The United States experienced a record number of measles cases during 2014, with 644 cases from 27 states reported to the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). The majority of people who contract measles are unvaccinated. Health officials have stated that individuals who have been vaccinated are at little risk from the disease, and would in fact be safe visiting Disneyland in California, the outbreak’s epicenter. However, the disease is extremely contagious to those without immunization. The CDC reports that 90 percent of unvaccinated people in close proximity to an infected person will catch measles.

The current outbreak and the higher number of measles infections in recent years may be attributable to some people declining to have their children immunized. Some parents fear a link between immunization and autism in children, while medical experts have continually asserted that there is no evidence for any such link. According to the CDC, 79 percent of the people who opted out of the measles vaccine in 2013 did so because they did not believe in vaccinations. Amy Schuchat, assistant surgeon general for the United States Public Health Service and the NCIRD, noted that one out of every 12 children are not receiving their measles vaccines on time, rendering them vulnerable to catching and spreading the disease. Schuchat also urges adults who are not sure whether they have been vaccinated for measles to contact their doctor. “There’s no harm in getting another MMR vaccine if you’ve already been vaccinated,” Schuchat noted. Schuchat and other medical authorities state that anyone exhibiting measles-like symptoms, such as skin rash, should seek medical evaluation and treatment.

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