Dear LA County Community,
Like most of you, I am concerned about the ongoing national and international measles outbreak. As we celebrate graduations and family events this month, I am reminded how important immunizations are in ensuring community well-being. While many of us are protected against measles through vaccination, the ongoing outbreaks across the world and our nation, coupled with recent locally-acquired cases, are clear indications that the current chance of exposure to measles remains very high for people in our community who are not immune to measles. Since just about everyone can be immunized to prevent getting measles, now is the perfect time to check with your health care provider to make sure you protect yourself and those you love.
PhD, MPH, MEd
DIRECTOR, LOS ANGELES COUNTY
DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH
MAY 21, 2019
WHAT IS MEASLES?
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection. The virus is spread through a cough or sneeze by a person with measles and can remain airborne to infect others up to 2 hours after the infected person has left a room. Persons with measles are contagious from 4 days before until 4 days after the rash appears. Once a person is exposed to measles, it can take up to 21 days until the first symptoms appear. Symptoms include a fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes, and a distinct red rash. Measles can cause very serious illness and even death. People exposed to the measles virus who are not immune (either because they were not previously immunized or never had measles) have a 90% chance of contracting measles if they are exposed to the virus. The best way to keep from getting and spreading measles is to get the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) immunization. Two doses of MMR are about 97% effective. Infants, pregnant women, and some people with weakened immune systems are not able to get vaccinated and they rely on high rates of immunization among the public for protection.
WHY SHOULD WE BE CONCERNED?
Many people are infectious with measles before they even know they have measles. A person who is infectious with measles may expose hundreds of people to a very contagious virus. If there are people exposed to the measles virus who are not fully immunized or immune because they already had measles, they may become infected and then they too can spread the measles to other non-immune people.
AN EXAMPLE OF HOW EASILY MEASLES COULD SPREAD
A student at a university spends time in the library, the cafeteria, their dorm, and a set of classrooms between April 3 and April 6. On April 7th the student has a rash, sees their provider, and is diagnosed with measles. Starting on April 3 (i.e., four days before the start of the rash), the student was contagious and exposed over 1,000 other students, faculty and staff to measles. If 5% (50) of the 1,000 people that were exposed to measles from this one student are not immunized and they never had measles, their chances of coming down with measles is as high as 90%. If even 10 of these 50 people without immunity now develop measles, and each of them exposes an additional 500 people to measles while they are infectious but not yet sick, there could easily be 50 people with measles within a few weeks. Although it sounds extreme for one case to lead to this number of people with measles, it is totally possible. Because infants, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems cannot be immunized, it is up to the rest of us to offer them protection from measles, and this only happens if those of us who are not immune make sure to get immunized.
WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE CURRENT OUTBREAK?
The current measles outbreak is a reminder to all of us that measles infection is back in the United States and is not eradicated globally. Measles continues to spread in some communities through a mixture of complacency, misinformation, skepticism about vaccines, and a lack of access to immunizations. As of the middle of May, eight confirmed measles cases have been recorded in Los Angeles County residents along with six non-residents who traveled through Los Angeles County. Most of the people with measles in LA county were not immunized.
In response to the local measles cases, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) has mounted effective public health strategies to control the spread of infection including the following:
- Strongly advising unvaccinated individuals to receive the measles vaccine;
- Isolating people who are infectious to prevent the spread of measles to others;
- Identifying contacts and protecting them with active or passive immunization when possible, as well as limiting their activities when necessary to prevent possible spread to others; and
- Notifying the public through postings and local media of specific public locations where measles cases have occurred.
However, all present indications are that despite our many efforts, we will likely see more local cases in unvaccinated residents.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Be sure you are vaccinated or have a blood test verifying that you are immune. The measles vaccine is very safe and very effective. If you are unsure of your status, call your provider. If you need to find a place to be immunized, call 2-1-1.
The following people should be fully immunized with 2 doses of the MMR vaccine: students, health care workers, caregivers and household members of infants and people with weakened immune systems, international travelers, and women who plan to get pregnant in the future (pregnant women cannot be vaccinated). Share our educational materials with your family members, friends and community so that they can be well-informed about how to protect themselves and their loved ones from measles. Our 14 DPH clinics offer free vaccinations to uninsured or under-insured residents. You can find a listing of our clinics as well as general information about the measles and our response here: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/measles/
If you feel sick and have symptoms of measles, please call your health care provider before going to a doctor's office, clinic or hospital.
We need everyone’s help in spreading the message that immunization is the most effective tool to prevent the spread of measles.
The MMR vaccine is covered for both adults and children by health insurance companies as a preventive health service. Measles immunizations are available at your healthcare provider, local pharmacy or health clinic. Public Health clinics offer no or low-cost immunizations for individuals who are uninsured or underinsured.
To find a nearby Public Health clinic, call 2-1-1 or visit: http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/chs/phcenters.htm
For more information about measles, visit: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/measles or call 2-1-1.
I look forward to continuing our communications. Please make sure you follow us on our social media platforms for up-to-date information and how you can get involved.
You can also sign up to receive this message and other DPH news through our News Alerts.
Wishing you all good health,