In all of 2013 the state of California reported 15 cases of measles. Officials are now extremely concerned because in just the first three months of 2014 they have confirmed 49 cases; 21 in Orange County.
Last week the Orange County Health Department held an emergency meeting to discuss ways to handle the unexpected outbreak, which is the biggest measles outbreak they have seen in decades.
O.C. Health Deputy Agency Director Eric Handler and Medical Director Matt Zahn told CBSnews that they have not seen an outbreak like this in two decades. They say people are not getting immunized, and could contract pneumonia or encephalitis.
The concern is that those who are not vaccinated are being exposed to the virus by others who have traveled to countries where it is more prevalent like parts of Africa and Asia. The initial case then spreads very quickly infecting others in the community. During 2013, nearly two thirds of the cases came from three outbreaks.
“It’s very contagious, and what we’re trying to do is prevent the exposure and spread,” said Dr. Handler. “The measles virus can cause inflammation in the brain that can appear immediately, or seven years out.”
The World Health Organization notes what to look for:
The first sign of measles is usually a high fever, which begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus, and lasts four to seven days. A runny nose, a cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks can develop in the initial stage. After several days, a rash erupts, usually on the face and upper neck. Over about three days, the rash spreads, eventually reaching the hands and feet. The rash lasts for 5 to 6 days, and then fades. On average, the rash occurs 14 days after exposure to the virus (within a range of seven to 18 days).
Patients ranged in age from 0 days to 61 years; 18 (11%) were aged <12 months, 40 (25%) were aged 1–4 years, 58 (36%) were aged 5–19 years, and 43 (27%) were aged ?20 years. Among the 159 cases, 17 (11%) persons required hospitalization, including four patients diagnosed with pneumonia.
Of those 159 cases – 117 of the individuals were unvaccinated.
Health officials expect that the measles outbreak to continue to spread, but are asking the public to prevent the spread by getting inoculated.
“Being fully vaccinated against measles does more than just protect the person who receives the vaccination — it also protects their family and friends, including children who may be too young to be vaccinated”, says Dr. Ron Chapman, CDPH director.
Two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine is being recommended as those who have not received two doses may be at risk of infection.