Measles Returns to California

Is anyone surprised that a student in California has measles?

A health advisory about measles in Santa Clara County.

Actually, a lot of folks are probably surprised. After all, didn’t lawmakers in California recently pass a law that mandated everyone in school get vaccinated?

Well yeah, but SB277 didn’t apply to all students. Only new students and those transitioning to a new grade span (for example, moving from K-6th to 7th grade) have to meet the new minimum immunization requirements. That means it will take more than a few years until all of the kids already in school whose parents have skipped or delayed any vaccines have gotten caught up or have graduated.

And that means we will still see some of these outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases.

There is also a little issue with medical exemptions somehow rising being abused after the personal belief exemption was eliminated in the state…

Measles Outbreaks in California

When you think of measles and California, most people probably think of the 2015 Disneyland outbreak, which was linked to:

  • 134 cases in California, including at least 50 cases without a known source
  • 13 cases in Arizona, Nebraska, Utah, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon
  • 1 case in Mexico
  • 159 cases in Canada

The Disneyland outbreak included a lot of intentionally unvaccinated kids and kept unvaccinated kids from school, closed daycare centers, and led to hospitalizations of more than a few people.

“The ongoing measles outbreak linked to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, shines a glaring spotlight on our nation’s growing antivaccination movement and the prevalence of vaccination-hesitant parents.”

Majumder et al. on Substandard Vaccination Compliance and the 2015 Measles Outbreak

Schools in California were closed for at least two weeks in 1917 because of measles epidemics.

The Disneyland outbreak wasn’t the first big measles outbreak in California in recent years though.

No, I’m not talking about the really big outbreaks from the pre-vaccine era. Or even the outbreaks in the late 1980s, just before we started giving an MMR booster. Believe it or not, 75 people died between 1988 and 1990 with measles – just in California.

More recently, there was the 2008 outbreak in San Diego that was triggered by an unvaccinated 7-year-old boy who had traveled to Switzerland with his family.

He returned with measles and got at least 10 other unvaccinated children sick, including four infants who were too young to be vaccinated and were unknowingly exposed at their pediatrician’s office.

“Almost 100 children (including babies who were too young for the MMR vaccine) were quarantined or hospitalized after they were exposed at the pediatrician’s office, Whole Foods or day care. In all, 11 children caught the measles. As it turns out, the boy who spread measles is a patient of Dr. Bob Sears…”

OC’s Dr. Bob Sears discusses measles outbreak on NPR

One of those infants was hospitalized when his fever spiked to 106 degrees and he wouldn’t eat or drink.

“We spent 3 days in the hospital fearing we might lose our baby boy. He couldn’t drink or eat, so he was on an IV, and for a while he seemed to be wasting away. When he began to be able to drink again we got to take him home. But the doctors told us to expect the disease to continue to run its course, including high fever—which did spike as high as 106 degrees. We spent a week waking at all hours to stay on schedule with fever reducing medications and soothing him with damp wash cloths. Also, as instructed, we watched closely for signs of lethargy or non-responsiveness. If we’d seen that, we’d have gone back to the hospital immediately.”

Megan Campbell on 106 Degrees: A True Story

Measles cases also began rising in 2011, as unvaccinated travelers brought measles back from trips to Europe, Asia, and Africa, where there were large outbreaks.  There were 31 measles cases in California in 2011.

While 31 cases might not seem like much, consider that between 2001 through 2006, there were just 66 cases in California, with only 4 cases in 2005!

Will we ever get to a year with just 4 cases in California again?

It didn’t happen in 2017.

Last year started with a big outbreak in Los Angeles County that grew to include at least 24 cases and a few surrounding counties. There was also a case involving an unvaccinated student at Laguna Beach High in Orange County which led to the quarantine of at least 6 unvaccinated students.

The Latest California Measles Outbreak

What kind of a measles year will we see in 2018 in California?

There is just one case, so far.

Did you eat lunch at the Westgate Center food court on Friday, March 2?
Did you eat lunch at the Westgate Center food court on Friday, March 2?

An unvaccinated student returned from a trip to Europe and developed measles, exposing others between February 28 through March 2 in Santa Clara County at a school in Campbell and at the Westgate Center food court in San Jose.

An infant hospitalized during a measles outbreak in the Philippines in which 110 people died.
The measles rash begins 3-5 days after other measles symptoms, which is why measles is often hard to diagnose.

With an average incubation period of 10 to 12 days, that means exposed people might begin to show symptoms by March 14. Keep in mind that the incubation period can be as long as 21 days though, so be on the watch for measles symptoms until at least March 23 if you could have been exposed.

Would you recognize measles?

It is important to understand that the first symptoms of measles don’t include a rash. Instead, you get a high fever, runny nose, cough, and pink eye. The measles rash comes a few days later, as the high fever continues.

It is also important to understand the the MMR vaccine is safe and works very well to prevent measles.

This exposure is a great reminder that vaccines are necessary and that you shouldn’t wait for your kids to get exposed to get them caught up and vaccinated and protected.

What to Know About Measles Outbreaks in California

A recent outbreak of measles in California, this time in Santa Clara County, is a good reminder that the MMR vaccine is necessary to keep your kids protected.

More on Measles Outbreaks in California

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