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ABC’s of your Health: Are you protected against measles?

Getting vaccinated can help stop measles from spreading

Since measles is still common in many countries, unvaccinated travelers bring measles to the U.S. and it can spread. But you can protect yourself, your family, and your community with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.
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Since measles is still common in many countries, unvaccinated travelers bring measles to the U.S. and it can spread. But you can protect yourself, your family, and your community with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Do you know if you are fully protected against measles?

If the answer is ‘no sure,’ the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is urging Californians to make sure they are protected against the highly contagious virus, especially if you travel internationally.

State Public Health Officer and CDPH Director Dr. Karen Smith said being fully vaccinated against measles is especially critical for those individuals who plan to travel internationally since there is currently a widespread of the disease in many countries.

“Vaccination is the only way to ensure you and your family members will not get measles,” said Smith. “Many countries are currently experiencing widespread measles activity.

Even though Measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, the highly contagious viral disease is widespread in many parts of the world, including Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Measles begins with a fever that lasts for a couple of days, followed by a cough, runny nose, conjunctivitis (pink eye), and a rash. The rash typically appears first on the face, along the hairline, and behind the ears and then affects the rest of the body. Infected people are usually contagious from about 4 days before their rash starts to 4 days afterwards.

According to CDPH, as of April 24, there have been 38 cases of measles in California – Los Angeles, Placer, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Butte, Calaveras, Shasta and Tehama counties - in 2019.

From those cases, 26 percent were people younger than 18 years old and 74 percent were older than 18 years old, according to CDPH.

This is an increase of 15 cases from the previous week and compares with 11 cases during the same time in 2018.

Of the 2019 cases, Smith said, 14 cases were in international travelers, 22 cases were due to spread from travelers to persons in California, and 2 cases are of unknown source.

The international travel associated with the 2019 California cases include India, Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam and the Ukraine.

“Make sure you and your family are fully vaccinated before travelling internationally and contact your healthcare provider immediately if anyone develops a rash and a fever while you are abroad, or when you return,” Smith said.

According to CDPH, individuals returning from international travel should call their healthcare provider for advice and avoid contact with other people if measles symptoms develop.

Smith said “overall, California has a relatively high vaccination rate for measles.”

According to CDPH, approximately 95 percent of all children entering kindergarten in California have received the necessary two doses of measles vaccine.

“Our vaccination rates have helped to stop the spread of measles in California. However, as evidenced by the outbreaks to date, the remaining unvaccinated and under vaccinated Californians are at risk,” Smith said. “Vaccination is the best way to stop the spread of this highly contagious and serious virus.”

The same week CDPH urged people traveling internationally to be fully vaccinated against measles, the Senate Health Committee passed SB 176 to prevent fake medical exemptions that put children and community at risk of vaccine preventable diseases.

Senate Bill 276, authored by Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and state senator representing the Sacramento region and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, will strengthen oversight of the medial exemption process.

“Medical exemptions for required vaccines have more than tripled since the passage of SB 277, putting kids and communities at risk,” said Pan. “Unscrupulous physicians are profiting from selling medical exemptions to parents seeking to evade laws to protect children at school. Measles outbreaks in communities with low vaccination rates are now spreading in our country and the world, and our public health doctors and nurses need to be able to protect our schools and neighborhoods.”

Smith said after SB 277 was passed, they saw a 5 percent increase in vaccination in the state.

“Three years ago, we stepped up our state’s vaccination laws to protect students and the entire public from being exposed to the danger of disease. Now, we’re seeing ant-vaccination parents and a few doctors get around that law by loosely seeking and issuing medical exemptions when families are willing to pay,” said Gonzalez. “The real cost is a threat to herd immunity and public health. Enough is enough,”

Under SB 276, physicians will submit information to California Department of Public Health (CDPH), including the physician’s name and license number and the reason for the exemption, which CDPH will check to ensure they are consistent with the Center for Disease Control’s contraindications to vaccination. The physician must also certify that they have examined the patient in person.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of April 19, 626 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 22 states, an increase of 71 cases from the previous week.

This his is the second-greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since measles was eliminated in 2000, second only to the 667 cases reported during all of 2014. In the coming weeks, 2019 confirmed case numbers will likely surpass 2014 levels.

The states that have reported cases to CDC are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, and Washington.

The last large outbreak of measles in California was associated with Disneyland and occurred from December 2014-April 2015, when at least 131 California residents were infected with measles; the outbreak also infected residents of six other states, Mexico, and Canada.

María G. Ortiz-Briones: 559-441-6782, @TuValleTuSalud

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