Health & Medicine

California college quarantines in place as lack of vaccinations leads to measles outbreak

Nearly 700 students and staff at UCLA and Cal State LA remain in quarantine Saturday after the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health warned they may have been exposed to measles. The quarantine comes amidst the largest nationwide measles outbreak since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000.

President Donald Trump told White House reporters Friday that Americans “have to get their shots” and that vaccinations are “so important.”

The current count of confirmed measles cases sits close to 700, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 300 of those cases are from an outbreak in Brooklyn and Queens, mostly involving members of the Orthodox Jewish community. In Rockland County, also in New York, 201 cases were confirmed as of Friday.

The quarantine at UCLA was put in place Monday in response to a contagious student who attended class April 2, 4 and 9, according to a message from Chancellor Gene Block. Eight faculty members and 119 students were initially quarantined, but that number has since been steeply reduced. Thirty students and employees remain quarantined.

At Cal State L.A., 106 staff members and 550 students are still under quarantine after someone with measles entered a campus library, according to a statement from the university. The potential exposure took place April 11 between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. at Library North, the statement said. The L.A. County Department of Public Health said there is no current measles risk at the library.

As of Friday afternoon, 110 students and 21 staff members had been cleared from the quarantine, the latest university statement said. Exposed individuals will remain in quarantine they can prove their immunity with medical records and are deemed not likely to come down with the disease.

The latest across California

Twenty-eight adults and 10 children have been diagnosed with measles in California this year, including three confirmed cases in Sacramento County.

The third Sacramento County case was confirmed April 24. All three were within the same family, and were the first confirmed cases of measles in the county since 2012. Sacramento County health officials said anyone potentially exposed to the virus was notified but would not specify how many people that may be, though they concluded after an investigation there was minimal exposure to the public.

Los Angeles County has had six total cases in 2019, while both Placer and Sacramento reported three, according to the state Public Health Department. San Mateo and Santa Clara counties both have had four cases and San Francisco County has reported one. Butte, Calaveras, Shasta and Tehama counties combine for a total of 16 cases.

According to CDPH, the last large measles outbreak occurred between December 2014 and April 2015 in connection with Disneyland. At least 131 Californians were infected, and the outbreak spread to six other states as well as Mexico and Canada.

Across the state, 95.1 percent of kindergartners have received all required vaccines, according to the Department of Public Health, but that number may be as low as 80 percent in some schools. National coverage among children aged 19 to 35 months was 92.7 percent in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Less than 7 percent of public and private schools in the Sacramento region reported a measles vaccination rate lower than 90 percent in 2018, according to the most recent data.

There have been no measles cases in Yolo County, but UC Davis is encouraging its campus community to get vaccinated to help prevent the spread of measles, according to a statement from university spokeswoman Melissa Lutz Blouin. For more information, including how to get a vaccination on campus, students should call Student Health and Counseling Services at 530-752-2349, according to the statement.

Officials from Sacramento State did not return multiple inquiries for comment.

The anti-vaccination movement in California

The rise in measles cases is in large part a result of the anti-vaccine movement. Misinformation connecting vaccines with autism and illnesses has made some parents take militant positions in opposition to the shots. But the current outbreak demonstrates vaccines are most effective when the overwhelming majority of the community is immunized.

Not getting immunized puts vulnerable groups, such as babies who are too young to be vaccinated or patients with autoimmune disorders, at a high risk for an otherwise preventable disease, according to the CDC.

Hundreds of family members, doctors, alternative healthcare practitioners and members of parental rights and religious groups gathered at the Capitol Wednesday to protest a bill that would make it harder to avoid vaccinations.

Senate Bill 276, authored by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, would give the authority to grant vaccine exemptions to state public health officials. Pan, who is a doctor, said physicians grant unnecessary exemptions.

The opposition to the bill said the legislation would ruin the “parent-doctor relationship” by giving the government a hand in medical treatment, but the bill passed the committee by a 6-2 vote Wednesday after nearly six hours of testimony and discussion.

Background on measles

The measles vaccine usually comes in two doses, according to the CDC. The vaccine is most commonly known as the MMR, because the shot also includes vaccinations for mumps and rubella, or the MMRV, which also covers varicella, which is chickenpox.

The CDC recommends all children get two doses of the MMR, one at 12 to 15 months old and one between the ages of 4 and 6 years old. College students who haven’t been vaccinated before should get two MMR doses, separated by a minimum 28 days, according to the CDC. Adults who aren’t vaccinated should get at least one dose.

Common exemptions for the MMR include life-threatening allergies, pregnancy or a weakened immune system because of autoimmune conditions or medical treatments such as chemotherapy, according to the CDC.

Measles symptoms begin with a high fever, cough, and itchy watery eyes, according to the CDC. Two or three days after the symptoms first show up, tiny white spots may appear on the inside of the mouth, and three to five days after symptoms start, a rash breaks out. When the rash shows up, the patient’s fever tends to spike to over 104.

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases in the world, according to the World Health Organization. While global measles deaths decreased by 84 percent worldwide between 2000 and 2016, 110,000 people died of the preventable disease in 2017. There exists no treatment for measles, according to WHO.

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