SACRAMENTO — In the midst of a statewide measles outbreak that has seen more than twice the cases reported a year ago, the California Department of Public Health has a message: vaccines are a safe, effective and important way of preventing a dangerous disease.
As of April 25, there have been 38 reported Measles cases in people that ranged from 5 months to 55 years old, CDPH State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith told reporters during a Thursday morning conference call.
At this time last year, there were 11 cases, Smith said.
The problem cannot be ignored, she said.
“Contrary to what some people think, measles is not a benign childhood disease,” she said. “It can have very serious consequences.”
Especially at risk are infants who are too young to be vaccinated, and people with weakened immune systems.
During an outbreak associated with Disneyland in December 2014, nearly 20 percent of the adults and children infected were hospitalized, she said.
The outbreak is particularly vexing to public health officials in the U.S., where the disease was declared eliminated in 2000, Smith said.
Of the cases, 76 percent were in people who either were unvaccinated or are considered “under-vaccinated,” the term used for people that have received only one of two doses of the MMR vaccine Smith said.
The current outbreak, Smith said, is a demonstration of what can happen when people choose to reject vaccinations.
“We do believe that vaccine hesitancy plays a role in the spread of measles both internationally and in California,” she said. “Getting two doses of the MMR vaccine is the most important way to protect yourself from measles.”
While public health officials are closely watching the spread of the disease, finding the source of the outbreak is not as easy.
What is known is that 14 cases were in people who traveled to Philippines, Thailand, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Ukraine, where health officials have reported 40,000 cases.
An additional 22 cases are in people who came into contact with the international travelers, Smith said.
Two of the cases spent time in international airports.
A major part of Smith’s mission – and that of other public health officials – is ensuring that children entering schools are vaccinated.
California lawmakers are currently mulling Senate Bill 276, a law that would shift authority for allowing medical exemptions for vaccines for school children to public health officials.
Already on the books is SB 277, which all but eliminated exemptions for personal reasons. While is spawned outrage among parents who oppose vaccines, the law led to a 5 percent increase in vaccine rates, which Smith chalked up to a victory.
“That demonstrates just how valuable school requirements for vaccination are in ensuring we have good community resistance to measles as it is imported into California,” she said.
• Symptoms begin with a fever that can be very high, and can include a cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes.
• A rash appears about four days layer, typically on face, hairline and ears, then spreads to trunk arms and legs.
• Infected people are usually contagious four to five days before the rash starts, and up to five days after the rash appears.
• Anyone who may be infected should contact their doctor and avoid contact with others.
The current cases, by county
• Los Angeles: 6
• Placer: 3
• Sacramento: 3
• San Francisco: 1
• San Mateo: 4
• Santa Clara: 4
• Santa Cruz: 1
• Butte, Calaveras, Shasta and Tehama: 16