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Measles outbreak: Santa Monica High coach diagnosed with disease

A Santa Monica High School baseball coach has been diagnosed with measles

Santa Monica High School students and parents were alerted Friday night that a freshman baseball coach had been diagnosed with measles, as the California-centered outbreak continued to spread to other states and Mexico.

School and Los Angeles County health officials immediately investigated the potential exposure to the rest of the campus. But they concluded that because every student on the baseball team had a record of measles immunization, it was unlikely that students could have caught the highly contagious virus.

No students have been asked to stay away from campus at this time, school officials said. 

In a letter sent to all parents and school staff, Principal Eva Mayoral said health officials confirmed the case Friday and “have advised us that there is only a small possibility your student has been exposed in this case; … the Department of Public Health is not directing us to take any special precautions or exclude any students at this time.”

The coach, who is a walk-on coach and not a teacher or staff member of the high school, has stayed away from school since he first developed symptoms, said Gail Pinsker, spokeswoman for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

“This situation illustrates why parents should immunize their students,” Pinsker said. “We are extremely concerned about exposure .... Immunizations can greatly reduce the spread of deadly diseases not only for the student receiving the immunization, but also for other family members, classmates and the community.”

The district, like many others in the state, has a track record of declining immunization rates, although the number of California parents who cite personal beliefs in refusing to vaccinate their kindergartners dropped in 2014 for the first time in a dozen years, according to a Times data analysis. The shift came amid rising alarm over the number of children being exempted from immunization, which prompted new campaigns to reverse the trend.

The rate of vaccine waivers for kindergartners entering the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District was 11.5% in 2014, a decrease from 14.8% in 2013, according to the Times analysis.

Health experts say that conditions for an outbreak worsen when 8% or more of the population is not immunized.

The district has been pressing parents to reconsider vaccinations. Officials have sent letters to parents directing them to clinics that provide free shots and warning that should an outbreak occur at school, unvaccinated students would be ordered away from class to avoid spreading the disease.

Other school districts have already had to take these measures. At Huntington Beach High School, officials this month told about two dozen students without proof of immunization that they could not come to school for 21 days after one student with measles came to school.

The Santa Monica case comes as the measles outbreak continues to expand, with officials now confirming 80 cases of the illness in seven states and Mexico.

There are now at least 70 measles cases in California, including 48 that have been directly linked to Disneyland or Disney California Adventure last month. Some people also visited one or both of the parks while infectious in January, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Nine counties in California have confirmed measles cases: Alameda, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Ventura. Cases connected to visits to Disneyland have also been confirmed in Utah (3), Washington state (2), Oregon (1), Colorado (1), Arizona (1), Nebraska (1) and Mexico (1).

Orange County now has 21 confirmed cases. Los Angeles County follows with at least 14 cases and San Diego County with 13.

The California patients range in age from 7 months to 70 years. The vaccination status is known for 39 of the patients. Of those, 32 were unvaccinated, one had received partial vaccination and seven were fully vaccinated.

Of the cases in California, about one in four have had to be hospitalized, state officials said.

Symptoms of measles include fever as high as 105, cough, runny nose, red eyes and a rash that begins at the head and then spreads to the rest of the body. It can lead to inflammation of the brain, pneumonia and death.

Health officials are urging people suspected of having the measles to first call their health provider before going to a clinic, enabling caregivers to make special preparations so patients don’t risk infecting others in the waiting room. An urgent care clinic in the San Diego suburb of La Mesa was forced to shut down last week when five people arrived with rashes.

Federal recommendations call for the first dose of measles vaccination, known as MMR, be given at 12 to 15 months of age, and a second between ages 4 to 6. California law requires two doses of measles vaccination before kindergartners can enroll, but parents can get exemptions for the vaccines if they say the inoculations conflict with their personal beliefs.

Infants too young to be vaccinated are particularly at risk of catching the disease. Six of the California cases occurred in infants who were too young to be immunized, state officials said this week. 

Follow @RosannaXia for more updates on the measles outbreak

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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