Measles outbreak in Orange County raises public health concerns

Since January, there has been a rise of reported cases of measles in Orange County with seven new cases during a one-week period in mid-March. Orange County Health Care Agency warned of specific South County venues where people may have come into contact with those carrying this highly infectious disease. As of April 7, there have been 22 cases reported in 2014.

Measles is a highly-contagious and potentially severe virus that causes a high fever, rash, cough and red, watery eyes. Symptoms may not show for up to 21 days after exposure and the rash initially develops near the ears and hairline, spreading down the body towards the legs. Measles spreads very easily by air and by direct contact with an infected person, according to the OCHCA. Measles is contagious from approximately four days before the rash appears through four days after the rash appears, according to the Center for Disease Control.

In a March 14 press release, OCHCA expressed its concern for the increase in measles cases in the county, reaching out to those who may have come into contact with those previously infected. Although development of measles if exposure was only brief, the agency strongly encouraged vaccination. Five locations in South Orange County were listed, along with specific time frames and dates of possible exposure, including Panda Express in Ladera Ranch, Robinson Ranch Elementary School in Trabuco Canyon, and several locations in and around Mission Hospital.

“Since January when the first cases of measles started showing up in our county, we have daily meetings for status updates and [to discuss] strategies for the agency to follow,” said Nicole Stanfield, the OCHCA’s public information officer.

Stanfield also said the agency’s website maintains weekly status updates so its public is aware of the status of outbreaks and possible risk of exposure to one who is infected with the measles virus. OCHCA also advises the importance of individuals staying current with the vaccine, which is a combination vaccine to prevent measles, mumps and rubella, more commonly referred to as “MMR.”

Dr. Matt Zahn, the county Health Care Agency’s medical director for epidemiology said there is a rise in the number of children not being vaccinated because their parents are opting out due to an inaccurate campaign on the Internet, which suggests the vaccine is linked with autism. The campaign appeared to be credible as it referred to a study completed in 1998 by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and published in the medical journal “The Lancet.” However, according to Zahn, this study was debunked by other medical professionals and the journal cited Wakefield with “ethical misconduct,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

When asked about American families who choose not to vaccinate their children for religious beliefs, he said that those population are small and they tend to be protected because the majority of people in their social circles are vaccinated.
“They are lucky to live inside a population that is already vaccinated,” Zahn said. “And the virus doesn’t get to them.”

Saddleback College Health Center administers the MMR vaccine to students for a $65 fee. For the who was likely vaccinated as an infant or child, but does not have older medical records, a $25 blood test is available to check for prior immunization, according to Cheryl Regan. She said an appointment is necessary for this treatment.

Nancy Montgomery, the director of Irvine Valley College’s Health and Wellness Center said most college students were previously vaccinated at a young age and added there have been no reported cases at IVC.

“IVC does not have health-related occupational careers, however, Saddleback College offers the measles vaccine for health occupation students who go into a clinical rotation,” Montgomery said. “Those students are the ones who will need to have all the vaccines up to date, and if they don’t have measles vaccine, they will have to only get a booster. There is nothing much at this point we provide a lot of education and prevention.”