In the first time in recent memory, Santa Barbara County Public Health officials announced a confirmed case of measles. On Tuesday at about 7:30 p.m., a Santa Barbara man was admitted to Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital. He felt ill soon after returning from Los Angeles.
Hospital staff took immediate precautions, confining him to an infection control room, according to Susan Klein-Rothschild, County Public Health’s spokesperson. He was treated and released, and he was instructed to go into isolation.
Klein-Rothschild declined to reveal specifics about the man’s prior whereabouts or immunization history, but she noted there is currently an outbreak in Los Angeles. Twelve people are believed to have contracted the airborne disease. “It is highly, highly contagious,” she stressed. Of the 12, just one was fully vaccinated, she added. Protection against measles requires two doses of the MMR vaccine, she said, noting it is 97 percent effective.
Two years ago, Public Health agents in Santa Barbara County went on high alert after a measles scare. They quickly convened a press conference at the County Administration Building, where doctors implored all members of the community to get fully vaccinated. The case turned out to be a false alarm, but it unleashed an impassioned debate about inoculations, a controversy that was beginning to pick up steam across the state. Last year, the State Legislature passed a law requiring all school children to be fully immunized, barring medical exemptions.
Symptoms of measles include rash, cough, runny nose, and pink eye, and according to Public Health, individuals showing symptoms have already been infectious for four days. Those exposed who are unvaccinated could be quarantined for up to 21 days. The disease can cause encephalitis, pneumonia, and death, Klein-Rothschild said. Before the MMR vaccine was invented in the 1960s, the disease was fairly common, sending 48,000 to the hospital each year; about 500 people would die annually.
Public Health employees found 45 people had come into contact with the measles patient. The department activated its Operations Center on December 30, and put more than 20 employees to work to identify the contacts before the 72-hour vaccination window lapsed. The 45 were assessed for their immunization status, and 10 were vaccinated. One person went into quarantine. All 45 will be monitored for symptoms through the end of the 21 day measles virus incubation period, or until January 17.
“We train for situations like this and move quickly when they happen,” said Dr. Charity Dean, Health Officer. “Protecting the vulnerable in our community is top priority.”