Getting vaccinated can help stop measles from spreading
UC Davis Health said Wednesday they sent out roughly 200 letters to people who may have been exposed to the highly contagious measles virus March 17 in the emergency department at UCD Medical Center. A young girl taken care of there was diagnosed with the illness.
The letter from UC told recipients: “You will need to notify your primary health care provider(s) and your child’s provider(s) of this possible exposure to discuss your possible risk of infection, vaccination history, and other questions you may have.”
One mother, Rayna Souza, told Fox News 40 that she was dismayed that her terminally ill son, 7-year-old Jackson, had been in the hospital’s ED within an hour of the Calaveras County girl who was diagnosed with measles. Souza didn’t immediately respond to The Bee’s requests for interviews, so it was not immediately known whether Jackson was vaccinated for measles.
Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious disease at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, issued a statement saying UCD medical providers evaluated Jackson on Tuesday and he did not have the measles. No other measles cases have been treated at the Sacramento-based hospital, he added.
As The Bee reported March 26, UC Davis doctors diagnosed the Calaveras child after she had been sent home from Mark Twain Medical Center in San Andreas on March 14 and Sutter Amador Hospital in Jackson on March 16 by doctors who felt she had the flu or another cold virus.
The UC Davis letters are part of the Sacramento County Public Health Department’s investigation into whether this exposure led to other measles cases.
In its early stages, the measles virus is often mistaken for a respiratory illness, public health officials say, and that is particularly true during the flu season when so many people are showing up to emergency rooms and doctor’s offices with influenza. Measles typically starts with a mild or moderate fever; cough; runny nose; and red, watery eyes. The telltale symptom of the disease is a red rash that eventually covers most of the body, but it does not appear for several days after symptoms start.
If you have been exposed to measles or have been traveling abroad and return with flu-like symptoms, doctors recommend you call ahead to your medical provider and provide that information. That way, they said, the staff can make arrangements to bring you in through a more isolated route.
The child had gone on an overseas trip, where it’s believed she was infected with the virus, Calaveras County Health Officer Dean Kelaita said, and she returned to California via San Francisco International Airport. Kelaita said the girl, who is school-age, had not been vaccinated against measles. That county has not reported any other cases related to this one.
Separately, Placer County health officials recently reported a family of three also had measles after visiting someone in Butte County whom they later learned had the illness. Placer public health officials said none of the family members was vaccinated against measles.
A member of the Placer County family went to work out at Auburn Racquet and Fitness Club at around 5:45 p.m. March 18, before the measles was diagnosed. However, Placer County officials said Wednesday their investigation has yielded no reports of other measles cases. After learning they were infected, the family remained isolated at home while fighting the illness.
Infected individuals can have measles for up to 21 days before showing symptoms, but most people will start have symptoms within 12 days. The UCD measles patient was treated 18 days ago, Blumberg said Thursday, so the incubation period for any other potential patients is almost over.
However, they can transmit the virus for days before symptoms appear. They do so by coughing molecules into the air or into their hands, where they can be spread to others. Medical officials say that the virus aggressively attacks immune systems and that exposure to even a few droplets with the virus can make people sick.
The measles vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent the illness, doctors say. California law requires students to be vaccinated before entering school, unless parents have a medical exemption for their children. Measles can cause deafness and death.
Without vaccines, measles can be costly to prevent and treat. That’s because children – and even some adults – with the disease often have to be hospitalized for care and because public health departments have to pull many staff members from other work to identify and isolate people exposed to the virus.
Editor’s note: This article was updated April 4 to add comment from UCD that the incubation period for the measles exposure there is nearly over and to note that the UCD letters were sent as part of Sacramento County’s investigation into potential exposures.