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Placer County on alert for measles spread

Vaccination the key to preventing disease spread
By: Gus Thomson of the Auburn Journal
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Measles is a highly infectious disease that typically causes a fever, runny nose, cough, sore eyes and red rash all over the body

A person with measles can be contagious for up to four days before and four days after the onset of a rash

Even in previously healthy children, measles can be a serious illness requiring hospitalization

As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia

About one child in every 1,000 who gets measles will develop encephalitis – an inflammation of the brain that can lead to convulsions, deafness or brain damage

For every 1,000 children who become ill with measles, one or two will die from the disease

Source: California Department of Public Health 

Ebola. Influenza. And now the measles.

The last six months have seen concern ebb and flow as the threat of an outbreak emerges.

The latest is measles.

The state Department of Public Health was reporting that by Monday, a total of 73 cases had been confirmed since December – with 50 linked to an initial exposure at Disneyland or Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim. The confirmed cases include five Disney employees.

Dr. Robert Oldham, Placer County public health officer, said Wednesday that the county had no confirmed cases, with several suspect cases already examined.

“We’re hoping to prevent a widespread outbreak in Placer County,” Oldham said. “It’s one of the most highly contagious diseases and an airborne illness.”

Complicating the current situation, it’s also flu season. Many of the symptoms – including cough, running eyes and even rash – mimic measles, he said.

While measles are highly contagious, they’re also highly preventable through vaccinations.

Placer County has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, Oldham said. He attributes that partly to people’s personal beliefs regarding vaccinations.

“We’re urging people who have previously gone unvaccinated because of concerns of safety to reconsider,” Oldham said.

At the state level, Dr. Gil Chavez, state epidemiologist for the Department of Public Health center for infectious diseases, is urging caution for people who remain unvaccinated, especially for infants under 12 months.

“Any place where large numbers of people congregate and there are a number of international visitors, like airport, shopping malls and tourist attractions, you may be more likely to find measles,” Chavez said.

The warning is particularly important for people who may have been vaccinated before 1989, when two doses became recommended.  The vaccine became available in the United States in 1963 and while one dose is 90 percent effective in preventing measles, two doses are more than 99 percent effective.

“Getting one is better than nothing,” Oldham said. “Two is the gold standard.”

Oldham said that people who have measles symptoms and believe they may have been exposed should contact their health care provider. The state is advising that unless it’s an emergency situation, it’s best to contact a health-care provider by phone to prevent spread in doctors’ offices.

The greatest number of cases since December were 23 in Orange County, 13 in San Diego County and 11 in Los Angeles County. A total of 43 – or 61 percent – were reported to be people ages 20 or greater. Four were under a year old.