UCI Health experts urge vaccinations to prevent spread of measles

Cases reported in Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties

February 18, 2014

Southern Californians concerned about measles cases recently reported in three counties should ensure they and their children are up-to-date with their measles immunizations. People who are not vaccinated are at a high risk of acquiring the disease, said UCI Health experts, who have important information and helpful tips.

Dr. Shruti Gohil, UCI Health associate medical director of epidemiology and infectious disease

“It’s important for people to know that while there have been recent measles cases in Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles counties, they shouldn’t panic,” said Shruti Gohil, MD, MPH, associate medical director of epidemiology and infection prevention at UC Irvine Medical Center.  “They should, however, be aware of signs and symptoms of measles.”

In recent weeks, Orange County Public Health Services reported three confirmed cases of measles at local healthcare facilities that potentially exposed 150 patients and their families and others to the measles. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health warned that a “significant number” of local residents were exposed to the measles due to delayed reporting of two separate cases in January. In addition, the County of Riverside Department of Public Health and several media outlets reported that an area school-age child tested positive for measles. 

Measles is an extremely contagious respiratory disease, Gohil said. It usually causes a mild to moderate fever, runny nose, red eyes and sore throat. A rash then appears on the face and progresses down the body. A fever that accompanies the rash can sometimes spike to more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. After a few days, the fever generally subsides and the rash fades. Occasionally, however, serious complications can occur, including pneumonia and severe brain infection.

The incubation period from exposure to the onset of measles symptoms ranges from seven to 21 days (the average is 10-12 days).  Children and adults may be contagious for one or two days before symptoms begin — and up to four days after the rash appears.

Vaccinations have been instrumental in preventing the spread of measles over the last 50 years. While the vast majority of Americans still continue to be vaccinated, immunization rates have declined in parts of the United States, leading to outbreaks of the disease that had been virtually eradicated.

Dr. Susan Huang, UCI Health medical director of epidemiology and infection prevention

“Over the last few generations, we have achieved such high vaccination rates here in the United States that we are victims of our own success,” said Susan Huang, MD, MPH, medical director of epidemiology and infection prevention for UCI Health. “Because of our extensive vaccinations, many of us have never seen a child with polio or had a loved one become disabled or die from a preventable disease like the measles.

“The elimination of several preventable diseases from the United States has resulted in complacency in people who never lived through an era of measles, mumps and polio and are now refusing vaccines for themselves and their children,” said Huang. “This results in unvaccinated children and adults who are at risk for contracting measles and other diseases when travelers bring the infection back into the country.”

Learn why parents should immunize their children ›

In certain pockets of the population, parents are holding off on vaccinating their children due to concerns of an alleged link between the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.

“The MMR vaccine does not cause autism or any other developmental disability,” Huang said. “This is a myth that has unfortunately led many people to decline the protection that vaccines afford. There have been numerous and very large well-conducted studies here in the United States and abroad that do not support any connection between MMR vaccine and autism.”

It is important for individuals to check their immunization records or check with their doctor to ensure that they, as well as their family, are up-to-date on all nationally recommended immunizations. People concerned about possible exposure to the measles should call their doctor, especially if they are experiencing a fever, cough and red facial rash. These symptoms may also be accompanied by excessive tearing and redness in the eyes.

Measles can be quite serious — even fatal. As many as one in 20 patients who come down with the virus may develop pneumonia; one in 1,000 patients may develop serious brain infection, and one in 1,000 patients may die from it. Complications may also include severe ear infections, which can result in permanent hearing loss. Pregnant women who contract measles can develop serious health problems that also can affect their babies.

Although vaccinations are usually recommended for babies at 12 to 15 months of age, parents who are plan to travel with an infant under a year old to areas where measles is common should talk to their doctor or pediatrician about an earlier vaccination for their baby. Measles is still a major public health concern in many parts of Asia, Africa and Europe.

“We live in a global society now with constant travel and there’s always risk for exposure to many illness and diseases,” said Gohil. “Many parents believe their children will never be exposed to any of these preventable diseases. But the fact of the matter is, there is always some chance. Ensuring that all immunizations are up-to-date for adults and children reduces this risk exponentially.”

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UCI Health comprises the clinical, medical education and research enterprises of the University of California, Irvine. Patients can access UCI Health at physician offices throughout Orange County and at its main campus, UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, Calif., a 412-bed acute care hospital that provides tertiary and quaternary care, ambulatory and specialty medical clinics, behavioral health and rehabilitation.

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