Los Angeles County health officials are working to reach out to more than 1,500 people who may have been exposed to measles by five people with confirmed cases of the highly contagious infection, focusing on airport workers and students at Cal State Los Angeles and UCLA.
"We're very worried about measles," Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors.
She said the county is taking a three-pronged approach to dealing with the infection in the face of outbreaks in New York, Northern California and around the world, which includes efforts to reach out to everyone exposed and, if they are not vaccinated against measles, asking them to stay home for 21 days to avoid spreading the infection.
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Ninety percent of people who are not immunized will come down with the measles if they come into contact with an infected individual, Ferrer said.
But the double-dose vaccine is highly effective and lasts a lifetime for those who have been immunized.
Anyone who develops measles symptoms should contact their doctor by phone before visiting their doctor's office.
Infected people can infect those around them before they have symptoms and know they are infected, and the measles virus can be transmitted from one person to another up to four days before the onset of a rash, health officials said.
Common symptoms associated with measles include fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and a rash which usually appears 10 to 21 days after exposure.
Even doctors aren't particularly familiar with the symptoms because the infection has not been widespread for many years.
Reaching out to health care providers and residents countywide are the other two parts of the county's approach to prevent further spread of measles.
Free vaccines for uninsured and under-insured individuals are on offer at the county's 14 public health clinics.
Ferrer said her department was coordinating with LAX officials to make sure that the word about free vaccines got out to 7,000 workers at Los Angeles International Airport, identified as a point of potential exposure on April 1.
Health officials are also reaching out to UCLA and Cal State Los Angeles -- two other points of possible exposure -- to offer free vaccines to students without means.
Four of the five confirmed cases -- the first in 2019 -- are linked to one another through international travel and an additional single case is also associated with international travel.
The majority of the victims were unvaccinated.
"We will likely see additional measles cases in Los Angeles County, so it is important if you or someone you know has the symptoms of measles or has been exposed to measles to contact your health-care provider by phone right away before seeking treatment," Los Angeles County Health Officer Muntu Davis said. "The best way to protect yourself and to prevent the spread of measles is to get the measles immunization, with two doses of measles immunization being about 97-percent effective at preventing measles."
The following locations have been identified as points of potential measles exposure:
- LAX, Tom Bradley International Terminal, Gate 218 on April 1 from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- UCLA's Franz Hall on April 2, 4,and 9 and Boelter Hall on April 2 and 9 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m;
- Cal State Los Angeles' main library, on April 11 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.;
- El Pollo Loco restaurant, 1939 Verdugo Blvd., La Canada Flintridge, on April 11 from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and
- El Sauz Tacos, 4432 San Fernando Road, Glendale, on April 13 from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Supervisor Hilda Solis previewed a motion recommended support for state legislation to boost school immunization requirements by standardizing exemptions statewide.
"In 2000, measles was declared eliminated in North America. Since January 2019, however, there have been over 600 reported cases in the United States," she said. "Unvaccinated people, especially children and pregnant women, are at the highest risk for measles and complications from measles."
She plans to formally submit the motion next week.