By Miriam Rafttery
January 21, 2015 (Sacramento) – Babies and people of all ages who have not been vaccinated for measles should temporarily avoid Disneyland and all public places likely to have many foreigners, due to a growing number of measles cases linked to the amusement park in Anaheim.
The California Department of Public Health issued the warning after 59 cases of measles have been diagnosed statewide, including 41 linked to Disneyland. Five Disneyland employees have contracted measles, as well as guests and people in contact with these individuals. CDPH recommends that any patient with a measles-type illness who has recently visited venues where international travelers congregate, such as theme parks, airports, etc., be considered to have a plausible exposure to measles.
The park has offered free vaccinations to its employees and paid leave to those exposed who are awaiting test results, UT San Diego reports.
A handful of cases linked to Disneyland have also been reported in several other states and in Mexico, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
“It’s really difficult to tell now when the last day of exposure might be,” said Dr. Gil Chavez, deputy director of the state’s Center for Infectious Diseases. “For the time being, if you are not vaccinated or if you have an infant who is too young to be vaccinated, you should avoid going to Disneyland.”
San Diego County has 13 cases of measles diagnosed recently, all linked to Disneyland. The children locally who contracted the disease are home-schooled, county health officials report, and none attend public, private or charter schools.
But if a child with measles were to attend school, the disease could spread quickly. Elsewhere in California, some schools have asked that unvaccinated children be kept home for several weeks to avoid spreading measles. So children without vaccinations are at risk of having their education disrupted, as well as of contracting the potentially dangerous measles disease.
Measles takes 7 to 21 days for symptoms to appear and a patient is highly contagious days before symptoms appear. Red eyes, high fever, cough and cold-like symptoms occur first, followed by a red rash that starts on the face and spreads downward and out to the hands and feet.
Health officials believe the outbreak likely originated with visitors from foreign countries such as the Philippines, which has tens of thousands of suspected measles cases. Large measles outbreaks have also occurred recently in Europe, Viet Nam and Pakistan.
In California, a high rate of parents who have not vaccinated their children has contributed to spread of the disease. Two doses of measles-containing vaccine (MMR vaccine) are more than 99 percent effective in preventing measles. Measles vaccines have been available in the United States since 1963, and two doses have been recommended since 1989.
If you are unsure of your vaccination status, check with your doctor to have a test to check for measles immunity or to receive vaccination.
Measles is particularly dangerous for babies under one year of age, who are too young to receive the vaccine. The disease can cause encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, pneumonia, and in rare cases, death. About a quarter of the current cases in California have required hospitalization of patients, though thus far no San Diego patients have been hospitalized and at least two have recovered.
One suspected local measles case turned out to be a false alarm: the patient who shut down an urgent care center in Rancho Bernardo this week tested negative.
If you believe you may have measles, health officials ask that you call your doctor to avoid infecting others in medical offices and waiting rooms. There is no treatment for measles, other than bed rest, taking over the county medication for fever, and drinking plenty of fluids. However complications can require medical treatment.