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Measles reaches Merced County
Young child recovering from the highly contagious virus
As of Tuesday the CDPH reported 131 confirmed cases of the measles in California. - photo by Photo Contributed

The measles outbreak that has struck California has moved a bit closer to home with the news that a Merced County child tested positive for the virus.

The Merced County Public Health Department said the child is recovering from the virus and they are working with the family to contact individuals who may have come into contact with the child.

“Fortunately, no one else in the family has measles and it’s a tight circle of contact,” said Michael Johnson, the assistant director of Merced County’s Public Health Department.

Citing patient confidentiality, the health department would not specify the city the child resides in or the child’s age, though Johnson did say the child is not school-aged.

At this time the health department has not been able to determine the source of exposure for the child.

The child had one vaccine, but not the second dose, Johnson said. Children routinely get their first dose of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine at 12 months old or later. The second dose of MMR is usually administered before the child begins kindergarten but may be given one month or more after the first dose.

The Merced County Public Health Department is investigating additional reports of measles in the county. Johnson said the cases have come from different parts of the county and were reported by physicians concerned by the presentation of symptoms. The department is coordinating with physicians to obtain samples for testing at the California Department of Public Health’s laboratory.

“We have had a number of cases that we have tested and they have come back negative,” Johnson said.

The Stanislaus County Health Services Agency reported they have investigated some potential measles cases in the county, but have yet to have a confirmed case of the virus.

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 four days before their rash starts to four days afterwards. The virus can linger in a room for a couple of hours after an exposed person has left and is so contagious that 90 percent of the people who come into contact with it will catch it if they are not vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Measles can also result in complications. In children they can develop pneumonia, lifelong brain damage or deafness. In 2013, about 145,700 people died of measles across the world, according to the CDC.

Measles is still widespread in many parts of the world, including Europe, Africa, and Asia and has entered the country through foreign travel. In 2014, the United States saw the highest number of measles cases in 20 years with more than 600. Most of the people who got measles last year were linked to travelers who picked up the virus in the Philippines, which saw more than 50,000 cases in 2014. 

As of Tuesday the CDPH reported 131 confirmed cases of the measles in California. Of those, 40 have been linked to the exposure traced to Disneyland from Dec. 17 to 20, 2014. Another 30 cases were reported in people who resided in a household with an infected individual or had close contact with them, and 10 infections arose from community contact, such as a visit to an emergency room where an infected person had been seen.

The CDPH stated 48 of the cases had an unknown source but were the same strain of the virus from the Disneyland outbreak. Three cases were from a different strain of the measles, the CDPH reported.

The majority of the individuals sickened with the measles in California have been individuals over the age of 20, who make up 56 percent of the confirmed cases. Infants under the age of one year represent 11 percent of the cases and children between the ages of 1 year to 4 years make up 15 percent of the cases. Children from 5 years up to 19 years represent 18 percent.

“Measles is highly contagious and highly preventable through vaccinations. CDPH is urging caution to individuals who are not vaccinated, especially infants under 12 months,” said Dr. Gil Chavez, the state epidemiologist and deputy director for the Center for Infectious Diseases at CDPH. “Any place where large numbers of people congregate and there are a number of international visitors, like airports, shopping malls and tourist attractions, you may be more likely to find measles, which should be considered if you are not vaccinated. It is safe to visit these places, including the Disneyland Resort, if you are vaccinated.”

Chavez said that two doses of measles-containing vaccine are more than 99 percent effective in preventing measles.

The majority of the cases reported across the country are in individuals that are unvaccinated, reported the CDC. The more people who are vaccinated against a virus like measles, the greater protection an entire community has against the virus. It’s known as “herd immunity” and it helps protect those individuals who are unable to get a vaccine like infants, chemotherapy patients and those with HIV or other conditions that have left them with a weakened immune system. When a contagion spreads in a community with immunization rates below 90 percent, the protection provided by ‘'herd immunity’ can be at risk.

Stanislaus County does have a high rate of vaccinations, said Dr. John Walker, the public health officer for the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency.