The first confirmed case of measles in Contra Costa County Feb. 11 spurred health officials to alert thousands of BART commuters of possible exposure.
The county’s health services and the San Francisco Department of Public Health issued a widespread alert to BART riders following an infected LinkedIn employee’s commute to work in San Francisco last week.
Erika Jenssen, the Communicable Disease Programs Chief for the Public Health Division of Contra Costa Health Services, said the proven case was indicative for the area.
“This first confirmed case in Contra Costa County illustrates that there is measles throughout the Bay Area,” Jenssen said. “We do not (definitely) know if others have been exposed, but other counties have reported cases.”
Once a case is confirmed through lab work, the CCHS begins a contact investigation, Jenssen said. Interviews determine what the person was doing while infectious and who they may have come in contact with. The investigation revealed the infected person traveled on BART to work and a restaurant while infectious.
The person rode on BART between the Lafayette and Montgomery stations in San Francisco during morning and evening commute hours on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday spanning from Feb. 4 to 6 according to the CCHS press release.
Department Manager of BART Communications Alicia Trost said the trains are regularly cleaned each night with industrial strength cleaner, but since measles is an airborne infection that lasts up to two hours, it cannot be fixed or prevented by cleaning.
“Only those who are not vaccinated are at risk,” Trost said. “Most people are vaccinated so the risk is low but we want to make sure the public is aware.”
BART has utilized internal communications to inform employees of the infected rider and have publicized the outbreak on their website and through social media.
The CCHS and the SFDPH are collaborating to track down and notify people who might have been exposed.
Students at SF State have mixed reactions to news of the outbreak.
Environmental studies major Evelyn Bruce said that vaccinations should be mandatory.
“People that don’t vaccinate put everyone else at risk,” Bruce said. “A parent can take a kid on BART and get everyone infected.”
Dylan Tachick, a film major, said despite riding BART and Muni up to four times per day he is not worried about the measles outbreak.
“We have technology and medical programs, so even if we have a person on BART with measles they get treated right away,” Tachick said. “It gets taken very seriously.”
Junior Maya Church said that she rides public transportation at least twice each day, but often even more frequently.
“It definitely worries me,” Church said. “That’s really disgusting to think that I could catch something as serious as measles riding public transportation every day.”
Church said news of the outbreak has not deterred her from taking public transportation.
“I don’t really have another option,” Church said. “A lot of people don’t have another option so I guess we just have to be cleaner and take better care of ourselves.”
Rachael Kagan, the Director of Communications at the San Francisco Department of Public Health said that there are no special precautions to help BART riders avoid becoming infected.
“It is an excellent idea for students to make sure their measles vaccinations are up to date,” Kagan said. “Most people are vaccinated and that is very effective and the best protection against measles.”
Erika Jenssen of the CCHS suggested that students check to ensure they have had two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. She said if students are unsure, they can get a blood test or talk to their health care provider.
“Students whose parents have chosen for them to not get vaccinated can now rethink that decision so they can protect themselves and others,” Jenssen said.
Aimee Williams, a lead health educator at SF State, said students can get the MMR vaccine and many other immunizations at the Student Health Center. Details on the vaccination clinics offered on campus can be found at the Student Health Services website.