California Measles Cases on Rise After Infected BART Passenger


During the first week of April, a college student was a passenger on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains while infected with measles; now California measles cases are on the rise. There are a reported 15 cases statewide, while last year at this time there were only two reported cases.

In addition to the infected UC Berkeley student, three of the 15 cases are confirmed in the Bay Area counties, according to California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) Deputy Director and Epidemiologist Gil Chavez. Chavez said that officials could not confirm if any of the 15 measles cases can be attributed to the infected BART passenger directly.

The victims of the measles range in age from five months old to 44 years old. Nearly half of the victims, seven cases to be exact, intentionally unvaccinated. While no cases have proved fatal, Chavez said they are concerned about the numbers. The purposely unvaccinated are young people ranging from 1-year-old to 32 years old.

Chavez said that three of the 15 measles-infected people had traveled to the Philippines where there was an outbreak of the disease. Another two had recently been to India, where measles is widespread. California measles cases are already on the rise after an infected BART passenger rode the trains for nearly a week and Chavez warned that if people continue to travel unvaccinated that these numbers will continue to rise.

The measles virus is highly contagious and can spread very quickly. It spreads through the air by infected people breathing, coughing and sneezing. It then manifests itself in symptoms such as: fever, runny nose, cough, watery and red eyes and a rash that spreads all over the body. CDPH officials said that people are usually contagious for about eight days: four prior to the visualization of the rash and four following.

The MMR vaccine that protects against measles, mumps and rubella, is still widely available statewide for anyone who remains unvaccinated. The MMR vaccine is typically administered when a patient is 12 to 15 months old and again between the ages of 4 and 6, usually before a child enters kindergarten. There is no need for a booster after these two vaccines and the treatment has proven to be very effective in preventing measles infection.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has also warned doctors to report the illness as soon as possible. Two unvaccinated measles patients went four or more days without the disease being reported.

California is one of 22 states that allow parents to not vaccinate their children because of individual opinions or philosophical objections. Therefore, just over nine percent of teens in California have not received the entire MMR vaccine and eight and a half percent of children three years old and under have not received the first dose of the vaccine.

This year, the flu outbreak has been violent in California. While, this week there have been no flu-related deaths reported, it is the first time this has happened in two months. There have been three times as many deaths in the state of California due to the flu than there was last year total. Chavez said that the best way to combat influenza infection is to get the vaccination. The season is not yet over and he said it is not too late to get immunized.

With California measles cases on the rise after the infected BART passenger rode the trains and the prevalence of influenza this season, officials urge Californians to get both the influenza vaccine and the MMR vaccine if they have not already been vaccinated.

By Rebecca Hofland

San Jose Mercury News

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