Health & Medicine

End in sight for the spread of measles that started at Disneyland

Visitors wait in line to ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant at Disneyland, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, in Anaheim, Calif. Some 131 people have been infected in a measles outbreak that led California public health officials to urge those who haven’t been vaccinated against the disease, including children too young to be immunized, should avoid Disney parks where the spread originated.
Visitors wait in line to ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant at Disneyland, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, in Anaheim, Calif. Some 131 people have been infected in a measles outbreak that led California public health officials to urge those who haven’t been vaccinated against the disease, including children too young to be immunized, should avoid Disney parks where the spread originated. AP

California public health officials are anxiously counting the days until Friday, hoping no new measles cases surface so authorities can declare the widespread Disneyland-based outbreak over.

Before a pronouncement can be made, two back-to-back incubation periods totaling 42 days must have passed without any additional B3-strain measles cases being reported, said Dr. James Watt, chief of the state’s division of communicable disease control.

While that period ends Friday, the public debate sparked by the Disneyland measles scare continues. Heated disputes over whether to vaccinate children are fueled by the realization that even a tourism destination as carefully tended as Anaheim’s Magic Kingdom could harbor a potentially deadly disease.

Measles can’t be avoided by frequent hand-washing or use of sanitizer gel. Microscopic droplets of the measles can linger in the air up to six hours after an infected person leaves, making anyone who enters that space vulnerable to catching the disease, experts say.

In California, the state Department of Public Health knows of at least 19 individuals who were deliberately unvaccinated and then caught the measles in the Southern California outbreak, Watt said. Others who were unvaccinated and fell ill with measles had not gotten around to getting the vaccine.

The measles strain that sickened 131 people in California and jumped state lines was likely introduced to the amusement park by travelers who had visited the Philippines, Watt said.

B3 is “a pretty common strain there since the last natural disaster hit the country,” a 2013 typhoon, Watt said.

“There are lots of people who come and go in California from all parts of the world,” said Watt. “This is how disease gets reintroduced in California and why up-to-date vaccinations are so important.”

Watt said he tries to deliver as much information as possible to the public through schools and county public health offices to counter information from parents and activists who believe vaccines are more dangerous than government studies show. One message he stresses is that none of the recommended childhood vaccinations contain thimerosal, a mercury-based ingredient that vaccine makers once used as a preservative.

Many parents still believe that a trace of mercury is used in vaccines for young children and that there’s a link to autism, a theory that has been scientifically disproven. More than a decade ago, for instance, the Institute of Medicine reviewed more than 200 scientific studies that examined thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism-spectrum disorders and concluded that the studies “consistently provided evidence of no association between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.”

Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious disease for the UC Davis Medical Center, calls measles, which was thought to be eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, “one of the most contagious diseases known to mankind.”

Call The Bee’s Cynthia H. Craft, (916) 321-1270.

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