The Santa Barbara Public Health Department is urging county residents to get vaccinated for measles as the virus continues its spread across the country following an initial outbreak at Disneyland in December of last year. Health officials have confirmed 73 measles cases in California as of January 26, reports the Los Angeles Times, including three in Ventura County.
The current measles outbreak — a disease previously considered eradicated in the United States at the turn of the millennium — has not yet arrived in Santa Barbara County, said Santa Barbara County Public Health Director Dr. Takashi Wada, nor have there been any local cases in recent memory. Should measles occur here, however, the county will be prepared.
“We’re obviously following the situation very closely,” he said. “We’re always on the lookout for suspected cases and educating our medical providers on what to look out for.”
Measles can be a difficult virus to detect, with telltale symptoms not arriving immediately. The highly contagious virus, contractable through the air or through infected surfaces, resembles a common cold in its early stages. Further symptoms arise a few days later: conjunctivitis and a rash, beginning on the face or neck and progressing downward. Measles can lead to pneumonia, ear infection, or inflammation in the brain, and one or two out of every 1,000 infections leads to death.
The most vulnerable, Dr. Wada says, are the young and unvaccinated. These include newborns too young to receive the initial MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine suitable for 12- to 15-month-olds, toddlers who have not yet received the second dosage at 4-6 years of age, and individuals who have opted out of the vaccine altogether.
Of the 42 California measles patients for whom vaccination status is known, 34 had not been vaccinated, three had received partial vaccination, and five had been fully vaccinated, reports the L.A. Times.
California law requires children entering kindergarten to be fully vaccinated against a number of diseases, measles among them. The law makes an exception for parents declining vaccines on personal or religious grounds, and the number proclaiming a personal belief exemption (PBE) has increased with each year. KQED reports the statewide PBE rate jumped from 1.56 percent of students in 2007-2008 to 3.15 percent of students in 2013-2014.
In 2013, Santa Barbara County had a PBE rate of 4.7 percent. Private schools have fewer students vaccinated, with Carpinteria Family School and El Montecito School having the highest exemption rates at 33 percent and 31 percent, respectively, according to KQED. The Public Health Department provides a Child Care PBE Map charting local vaccination rates on its website.
“There are a lot of different reasons why parents may not vaccinate children — sometimes there’s legitimate medical reasons, sometimes it’s the personal belief exemptions, and I think that’s where there’s a growing concern,” Dr. Wada said. “Some parents think it’s still somehow related to autism, despite countless medical research studies that have disproven that causal link.”