County Faces Outbreak of Measles : Health: Eight residents are diagnosed with contagious virus. Experts blame apathy about immunizations.
For the first time in three years, Ventura County is experiencing an outbreak of the highly contagious measles virus, public health officials said Friday.
Eight adults and children were diagnosed with measles this week. Blood tests are being run on at least four others. And several more suspected cases were reported Friday, but public health nurses have not yet had time to contact the patients.
All of the cases have been clustered in Ventura and Oxnard, except for a brother and sister in Camarillo who may be infected.
“We’re being run ragged right now, trying to follow up on these,” said Lin Glusac, an immunization coordinator for the county public health department. Until now, the county had seen only four cases since 1992.
Although measles is usually benign, possible complications can include pneumonia, infection of the cornea, middle-ear infections and brain damage. In rare cases, measles can be fatal.
The spread of the disease prompted Dr. Gary M. Feldman, the county’s public health officer, on Friday to warn hospitals, clinics and physicians that anyone infected with measles must be kept away from susceptible patients and health care workers.
Feldman also urged anyone with measles symptoms to see a doctor, and reminded physicians that suspected cases must be reported to the health department.
Pregnant women, children under the age of 2 and individuals with suppressed immune systems are the most vulnerable to measles. If the disease is detected within six days of exposure, patients may be given a shot of immune globulin to ward off the virus.
The new cases signal a resurgence of the disease in Ventura County following a three-year period when it was virtually suppressed. Officials blame the reappearance on complacency toward immunizations.
“If everyone was immunized as a child, we should be able to eradicate this just like we have the smallpox and we have almost done to the polio,” Glusac said.
“But unless you’re a grandmother, you don’t remember people having the measles,” she added. “That’s why people don’t keep on top of immunizations and that is why these outbreaks happen.
“This is still a threat to our children,” she said.
Prior to 1992, Ventura County experienced an outbreak that mirrored the measles epidemic throughout the nation.
Twenty-three cases were reported in the county in 1991, and 50 were reported in 1990, the same year the epidemic peaked in California with 12,480 cases.
Other areas of the state have also reported new measles cases this month, including three in Riverside and two in San Bernardino. Sixty cases have cropped up in Colorado so far, and three were reported in Arizona, Glusac said.
Of the eight cases confirmed in Ventura County this week, two are women in their mid-30s who work for the same employer in Ventura. Another is a child who attends Portola School in east Ventura.
As a result, nine other students have been kept home since Thursday because records show they have not been immunized.
“We’re just taking steps and being careful that parents are aware, especially at Portola, where our one known case occurred,” said Pat Chandler, assistant superintendent of the Ventura Unified School District.
The nine students will be kept home a week to 10 days, or until their parents verify that immunizations were given.
The first symptoms--a high fever, cough, runny nose and red or watery eyes--typically show up about 10 days after exposure. A blotchy, red rash usually follows in three to seven days.
The disease is spread easily through secretions from the nose and throat that can be airborne. In 1994, federal health officials blamed 247 cases of measles in 10 states on a single skier who spent spring break at a Colorado resort.
“If you were in the same room with a person who had measles up to 90 minutes after them, you could possibly get the measles,” Glusac said.
All children should receive a vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella when they are 12 to 15 months old. Children can be given the second vaccine any time after the age of four.
Low-cost immunizations are available through the county’s three public health offices. Parents should call the Ventura office at 652-5918, the Oxnard office at 385-8652 or the Simi Valley office at 584-4887.