An outbreak of measles swept across California, with 21 confirmed cases as of April 10, including cases in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, according to the California Department of Public Health.
The disease is rare, typically occurring in childhood, and causes fever and a red rash on the skin. It can be transmitted through coughing and sneezing and, though rare, could be deadly, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“90 percent of the people who are exposed to measles will get the disease. It can hang out in the air for up to two hours,” California Pacific Medical Center infectious disease specialist Shelley Gordon said.
As of April 4, there have been 465 confirmed cases of measles, the largest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 2000, according to the CDC.
The CDC said the outbreak may be linked to the number of international travelers who get measles overseas and bring it into the U.S., as well as the number of unvaccinated people.
In response to the outbreak, the CDPH continues to support medical efforts with lab tests, vaccinations and advice, CDPH spokesperson Jorge De La Cruz said.
Melissa Wong is a family practice doctor in San Francisco, as well as the co-owner of City Bay Urgent Care. Dr. Wong did her medical training from 2004 to 2008, a time when measles was considered eradicated from the U.S.
She remembers being told that she wouldn’t see measles in her practice with the exception of patients coming from tropical or international environments.
After Wong graduated, the anti-vaccine movement gained momentum. Because of this, Wong says the re-emergence of measles didn’t come as a shock to her.
“It wasn’t hard to understand or predict what would happen next—as long as communicable diseases exist on the Earth, we will be susceptible to these infections until our vaccine rates are high enough to provide a barrier and contain the cases brought in from other parts of the world,”
Procedures to control an outbreak depend on its size as well as other factors, but immunizations are particularly important, according to De La Cruz.
“Immunization of vulnerable persons before or shortly after exposure is a key step regardless of the size of the outbreak,” De La Cruz said.
CSU policy requires all students “except those who were enrolled in a California public school for the seventh grade or higher on or after July 1, 1999, to provide proof of immunization against measles, mumps and rubella [or MMR] before being allowed to register for classes,” according to SF State Student Health Services Director Roger Elrod.
The University clinic offers the vaccine for $104, according to Elrod.
SF State staff physician Allan Lee said any information linking autism to the MMR vaccine has been confirmed as false.
“It is an established fact that the original article [the Wakefield Study] referenced for this reported correlation has been officially retracted by Lancet [the journal in which the original article appeared] in 2010 due to ethical misconduct,” Lee said. “Most recently, a definitive study
published on March 5, 2019, in Annals of Internal Medicine studied 657,461 children in Denmark from 1999 to 2010 and concluded that MMR vaccination does not increase the risk for autism.”
Gordon said there is no reason why people shouldn’t be getting vaccinated. “It’s stupid. It’s unnecessary. There’s a good vaccination for measles and I think people have to be vaccinated,” Gordon said.
Dr. Wong is frustrated with the reemergence of measles since it could have been prevented with proper vaccinations.
“The most concerning and frustrating part for me though is that measles, and more recently mumps as well, has come back not from a
shortage of the MMR vaccine, not from lack of access to health care and not from lack of modern health care—but from misinformation,” Wong said.
Wong said communication is the best way to reject this misinformation.
“There is a wealth of information and many studies that confirm the safety of vaccines and refute the link to autism,” Wong said.