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Measles, a once-common illness, makes a comeback. What you need to know

Getting vaccinated can help stop measles from spreading

Since measles is still common in many countries, unvaccinated travelers bring measles to the U.S. and it can spread. But you can protect yourself, your family, and your community with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.
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Since measles is still common in many countries, unvaccinated travelers bring measles to the U.S. and it can spread. But you can protect yourself, your family, and your community with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Measles, which had been eliminated from the contagious disease landscape, is no longer under firm control.

As health agencies try to quash outbreaks in California and other states, many people are considering the necessary precautions to avoid catching the potentially dangerous illness.

Outbreaks of measles spread rapidly when infected people cough or sneeze, sending the virus into the air that other people breathe.

Stanislaus County health officials issued a measles warning Thursday after an infected adult attended a basketball showcase, featuring the area’s top high school players, last week at Turlock High School. About 300 tickets were sold for the event.

Health officials said it’s possible other spectators were exposed and they should be watching for symptoms. The county Health Services Agency on Friday had nothing new to report on the possible exposure. Stanislaus County has no reported cases of measles, as the infected woman was from another county.

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Since Jan. 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed people sick with measles in California and 14 other states. The immunization branch of the California Department of Public Health has confirmed 16 cases in different counties in northern and southern California, including Calaveras.

For the past several years, the CDC has traced measles outbreaks to travelers, who lack vaccinations or immunity, picking up the virus in Europe or other nations where the illness occurs and bringing it back home.

In an outbreak tracked by the CDC last year, a 15-year-old boy who wasn’t vaccinated came back from England with measles and transmitted the illness to a fellow Boy Scout, a classmate and a child at a tutoring center in the Bay Area. A 21-year-old student caught the virus at a Boy Scout outing before returning to college in Nevada.

As a result, hundreds of people in 10 counties of California and Nevada were exposed to measles, the CDC reported.

The vast majority of parents have their children vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella. The standard vaccination includes one shot at 12 to 15 months and a second dose when the children are 4 to 6 years old.

Julie Vaishampayan, public health officer for Stanislaus County, hopes the recent measles outbreaks will convince some parents to rethink their decisions not to vaccinate. Parents can get caught up with two doses of MMR for their child at least 28 days apart.

Vaishampayan said children or teenagers should be vaccinated before traveling outside the country.

She said adults should have immunity if they had two MMR doses in childhood. The two doses combined are considered 97 percent effective.

Adults who had measles earlier in life are also immune.

“Adults born 1957 or later should have at least one dose of MMR vaccine,” Vaishampayan wrote in an email. “Some adults such as healthcare workers, college students, international travelers and people in close contact with someone who has a lowered immune system are all recommended to have two doses.”

According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, people who have compromised immune systems should be not be vaccinated. Those who aren’t sure should talk with their healthcare provider.

San Joaquin Public Health Services also has issued advice on measles for the general public. Age groups more vulnerable to serious complications are children younger than 5 years old and older adults, the agency said.

The first symptoms of measles are a high fever, runny nose, sore throat and cough, and red eyes. That is followed by a rash on the face and behind the ears, which spreads from there. Possible complications include pneumonia or encephalitis, the latter occurring in one of 1,000 cases in children.

Cleveland Clinic explains how measles comes on, develops, can get complicated and how to prevent the infectious disease.

Vaishampayan said the majority of schools in Stanislaus County have vaccination rates of 95 percent or higher, which is the recommended level to prevent outbreaks. A site called ShotsforSchool shows most Modesto-area schools in compliance with the 95 percent rate for students with all required vaccinations, eight schools between 90 and 95 percent and one school slightly below 90 percent.

For the past three years, California has not allowed parents to opt out of vaccinations based on personal beliefs, but the state has seen a three-fold increase in medical exemptions since 2015.

This past week, state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, introduced a bill to deal with phony medical exemptions. In a news release, the senator said a handful of doctors are abusing the process by the selling the exemptions to parents opposed to immunizations for their children.

Senate Bill 276 would give approval authority over exemptions to the state Department of Public Health. The state agency would review the stated reason for the exemption on the forms submitted by physicians.

Under the legislation, doctors would have to certify they examined the patients. The state would create a database for medical exemptions, and state and county health officials would have the ability to revoke exemptions that are fraudulent or not consistent with CDC guidelines.

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