Public health officials in the Golden State are now dealing with a trifecta of health issues this winter. The severe drought has now added concerns about drinking water supplies while California health officials are already grappling with the deadly flu epidemic and a possible train full of passengers exposed to measles.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) have been busy on a variety of health fronts. The department has been identifying areas in the state that may have severe drinking water shortages in the next 100 days. The CDPH recently confirmed that 243 in the state have died from influenza-related illnesses this severe flu season and another 41 deaths are being investigated.
With the state experiencing its driest year on record, the CDPH identified and offered support to 17 communities with vulnerable drinking water systems because of the drought conditions. The state is trying to identify alternative water sources for the mostly rural areas.
One example of the state’s efforts to ensure safe water supplies for affected areas is $250,000 in emergency funds to the city of Willits. The Mendocino County city needs the funds to purchase and install a pipe to connect well water to the city’s existing water system.
The high death toll from the flu this year still has officials concerned. There was 243 flu deaths so far this 2013-2014 season, compared to 106 experienced last year. The number of new flu cases reported in the state has dropped recently, but the season is far from over. CPDH director Dr. Ron Chapman noted that the flu season is still severe and the number of flu-related deaths will continue to rise.
Besides the flu and water supplies, a measles case in Northern California added public health concerns. A University of California, Berkeley, student who was infected with the measles possibly exposed thousands of area commuters and students to the disease.
The student, who lived off campus, took the BART public transportation system and went to classes for several days unaware he had the contagious disease. This unwittingly exposed thousands of commuters in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as students and faculty to the measles. The student had not been vaccinated and probably got the measles on a recent Asian trip.
Measles is highly contagious. The virus can survive in the air for up to two hours, so commuters and students who were exposed did not have to come in contact with the student. Anyone who rode the same subway train or was in the same rooms afterwards could have been exposed, unless they were vaccinated again the disease.
Health officials have contacted students who shared classes with the infected student, but need public awareness to reach exposed commuters. They caution that it takes seven to 10 days for symptoms to show up, so anyone infected by the student when he was likely contagious (Feb. 4 to Feb. 7) would just now be showing signs of measles. Symptoms are initially similar to cold or flu, with fever, cough and runny nose, which is what the student thought he had. The telltale measles rash on the face and neck does not show up until two to three days after the fever.
Measles is a preventable disease that had been eliminated for years through vaccinations in the United States. However, more parents are forgoing vaccinations for their children now and the shots are not used as much in other countries. As a result, measles is making a return. So, health officials are cautioning that measles, like flu and the drought-stricken water supplies, is now an added concern in California.
By Dyanne Weiss