‘I Thought Measles Were Killed Off in 1969 or Something.’ : Inoculations Crackdown Sends 380 Students Home

Times Staff Writer

Although Carol Williams-Fawcett’s summer vacation may have begun a couple of weeks early, she isn’t exactly thrilled.

Carol, along with 379 other students in the Corona-Norco Unified School District, was forced to stay home from school this week until she could prove she had been inoculated against measles.

The unprotected schoolchildren were ordered out of the classrooms by Riverside County health officials in response to reports of 10 probable measles cases in the area in the last two weeks, Dr. David Dassey, chief of disease control, said.

The health department is trying to control an alarming apparent countywide increase in the incidence of the disease, Dassey said. Of 380 reports of suspected measles cases in Riverside County since January, 34 have been confirmed and 52 were classified as “probable.”


Riverside County had only one confirmed case of measles in all of 1984, and none was reported in 1983, he said.

The health department has ordered pupils excluded from three other school districts this year, Dassey pointed out. “We were quite successful in stifling” measles outbreaks in the Hemet, Perris and Romoland schools, he said.

Most of the students sent home from the Corona-Norco schools--including 185 who rolled up their sleeves Monday at a clinic at district headquarters--have returned to classes, according to John Buckley, the district’s supervisor of health services.

But Carol Williams-Fawcett has been unable to get a shot, she said, because her mother does not have the time to accompany her to a doctor’s office or clinic.


“They didn’t give us enough warning,” Carol complained. “During finals week, it’s really rough.” But the Norco High School junior said she has been able to keep up with her work by studying at home.

Stuck at Home

“With all of my friends being in school, I don’t have much else to do,” she said.

Carol did admit making a spontaneous trip or two to the beach this week to escape the 90-degree heat.


County health officials decided to order the district-wide crackdown on measles inoculations, Dassey explained, after nine suspected measles cases among children attending a Corona church were reported.

“Because this was affiliated with a church whose members were attending numerous other schools, I thought it was important to look at the whole district,” Dassey said. ". . . The kids are mingling outside of school--socially, recreationally, whatever.”

What the doctor found was that about 3% of Corona-Norco’s students had not been inoculated, compared with about 1% countywide.

“I guess we thought that it was easier to sign a waiver than to make an appointment to go get a shot,” explained Blanca Solis of Mira Loma, a senior at Norco High School. Blanca got her measles shot first thing Monday morning, she said, so she wouldn’t miss any classes.


Many students said they believed they were not risking contracting measles, a viral disease that, according to Dassey, is fatal to about one out of every 1,000 people who catch it.

Scoff at Risk

“I never thought I was going to get measles,” said Shawn Sowder, a Norco senior. “I thought measles were killed off in 1969 or something.”

Rubeola, or “regular measles,” remains one of the most contagious diseases, despite widespread inoculation in the developed world, Dassey said. Many people do not remember just how serious a measles outbreak can be.


“You have to realize the heyday of measles passed in the early ‘60s,” he said. “I, myself, have never seen a case of measles. A lot of doctors have not seen a case in a long time, if at all.”

The symptoms of measles, he noted, are a rash over the body that lasts more than three days, fever of at least 101 degrees, watery eyes, and a runny nose or a cough.

The disease can lead to complications such as inner-ear infections, pneumonia or encephalitis, which can cause permanent brain damage or death, Dassey said.

Measles may be the second-largest killer of children in underdeveloped regions, he added.


But in the Corona-Norco district, students viewed the disease as just a pain in the arm at an inconvenient time.

‘Bad Week to Miss Classes’

“This would be a really bad week to miss classes,” said senior Michele Torres of Corona, “because we have review for our finals, which are Monday and Tuesday . . . .

“Everybody who was on that list--if they have any concern for their schoolwork--went and got that shot,” she said. “It didn’t even hurt that much.”


Torres and her schoolmates “came in in droves, got immunized, and went right in to school” this week, said Buckley.

If no more measles cases are reported in the next five days, Dassey said, health officials will lift the exclusion and consider another potential outbreak halted.