Why Californians Traveling Internationally Should Get a Measles Vaccination

Measles cases in the U.S. have climbed to their highest level in 25 years

There have been 38 cases of measles in California this year. Of those, 14 cases were international travelers and 22 were due to spread from travelers to people in California. 

That's why the California Department of Public Health is urging anyone traveling internationally to be fully vaccinated against measles. The countries linked to this year's cases in California include India, Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam and the Ukraine. 

"Vaccination is the only way to ensure you and your family members will not get measles," California Public Health Officer and CDPH Director Dr. Karen Smith said. "Many countries are currently experiencing widespread measles activity. Make sure you and your family are fully vaccinated before travelling internationally, and contact your health care provider immediately if anyone develops a rash and a fever while you are abroad, or when you return."

About 95 percent of children entering kindergarten in California have been properly vaccinated, helping to stop the spread of measles in the state.

"However, as evidenced by the outbreaks to date, the remaining unvaccinated and under vaccinated Californians are at risk," said Smith. "Vaccination is the best way to stop the spread of this highly contagious and serious virus."

The state health department issued the following recommendations for anyone returning from an international trip.

  • Call your health care provider for advice.
  • Avoid contact with other people if measles symptoms develop. Measles begins with a fever that lasts several days, followed by a cough, runny nose, conjunctivitis (red eye) and a rash that typically appears on the face and hairline before the rest of the body.
  • Infected people are usually contagious for about four days before the rash and four days after it goes away.

In Los Angeles County, free vaccines are available for uninsured and under-insured individuals are on offer at the county's 14 public health clinics.

California's last large measles outbreak was associated with Disneyland in Anaheim, according to the California Department of Public Health. From December 2014 to April 2015, at least 131 Californians were infected. 

At this time last year, there were 11 measles cases in California.

Nationwide, measles has climbed to its highest level in 25 years, closing in on 700 cases this year in a resurgence largely attributed to misinformation that is turning parents against vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 695 cases had been reported in 22 states this year as of Wednesday afternoon. That was up from 626 reported Monday and makes this the nation's worst year for measles since 1994, with eight months still to go in 2019. There were 963 cases in 1994.

Roughly three-quarters of this year's illnesses in the U.S. have been in New York state, mainly in two ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and suburban Rockland County. Most of those cases have been in unvaccinated people. 

The number of cases is likely to go even higher. Measles is highly contagious and can spread through the air when someone coughs or sneezes. And in recent days, Jewish families have been gathering for Passover meals. It can take 10 to 12 days for symptoms to develop.

The CDC recommends the vaccine for everyone over a year old, except for people who had the disease as children. Those who have had measles are immune. The vaccine, which became available in the 1960s, is considered safe and highly effective, and because of it, measles was declared all but eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. But it has made comebacks since then, including 667 cases in 2014.

Public health experts say some U.S. communities have low vaccination rates because of the spread of bad information -- especially the now-debunked notion that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is linked to autism -- through social media, pamphlets, hotlines and other means.

According to the CDC, for every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it. No deaths have been recorded this year.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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