“It's a serious, serious deal here,” said Laurie Lang, senior health educator for the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency. “(Measles) pretty much affects the whole state.”
Although there has not been a reported case of measles in Santa Cruz County since a child was diagnosed in late December 2013, the high number of cases nearby — coupled with the ease with which the airborne disease is passed — is alarming, she said.
Whenever a suspected measles case is reported, Lang said, health officials are required to reach out and contact anyone that the sick person had been in contact with during the 8-day period that the disease is contagious.
For the single case in December, she said, “that one case, we had to contact over 200 people — all the people that had been in contact during the infectious period.”
Each person has to be interviewed, after which a vaccine will be offered if the person has not been previously immunized. Finally, the decision must be made based on the risks whether or not to quarantine the person.
Expectant mothers, young children, and those without vaccination are the most at risk of serious health problems from measles, Lang said.
“The whole idea behind vaccination is to protect pregnant women and also children,” she said. “We often tend to think of measles as a benign childhood disease and it's not — it's a really serious situation.”
Lang said that compared to the 49 cases already diagnosed this year, only four were diagnosed statewide in the same period of time in 2013.
According to the California Department of Public Health, of those 49 cases, 11 people had travelled outside of North or South America, including to parts of the world where outbreaks are actively occurring or where measles is widespread.
Of the patients without international travel, 30 had contact with known measles cases, three had contact with international travelers and five are under investigation to identify potential sources.
Symptoms of measles typically include a fever that lasts for a couple of days, followed by a cough, runny nose, red, watery eyes and rash.
The rash typically appears first on the face, along the hairline, and behind the ears and then affects the rest of the body.
Complications can include diarrhea, ear infections and pneumonia. In severe cases death can occur.
Lang said that if a person believes they may have the measles, it is important to contact a doctor immediately — by phone.
Due to the high level of contagion the disease has, she said, arriving at the doctor's office waiting area can spread the disease.
For more information, visit the California Department of Health at http://cdph.ca.gov or the Santa Cruz County Department of Health at www.santacruzhealth.org/