County health officer Dr. Charity Thoman and Sansum Infectious Disease specialist Dr. David Fisk at a press conference to discuss California's outbreak of measles possibly reaching Santa Barbara County (Jan. 28, 2015).
Paul Wellman

After announcing Wednesday morning that the statewide measles outbreak may have found its way to Santa Barbara County, public health officials held an afternoon press conference to elaborate on the suspected case. Dr. Charity Dean said a Santa Barbara child may be infected — test results should be available within the week — but she didn’t elaborate with any details. Dean said the Public Health Department is contacting anyone who may have been exposed to the potential carrier.

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that begins with a fever that lasts for a couple of days. A cough, runny nose, and pink eye follow. A rash starts about four days after that, beginning on the face and upper neck then spreading down the back, arms, hands, legs, and feet.

Making a strong plea for vaccinations, Dr. Takashi Wada said diseases such as polio, whooping cough, and measles that were prevalent in the early 20th century have made a comeback. Earlier this month, a Santa Barbara infant died of whooping cough, and there have been 73 cases of measles in California this year. About a fourth of those infected end up in the hospital. In certain cases with complications, the disease can lead to death. Wada called the outbreak a “clear reminder of the importance of vaccinations,” adding that countless studies indicate there is no link between vaccines and autism.

Dr. David Fisk, who specializes in infectious diseases at Sansum Clinic, similarly linked recent outbreaks to low vaccination rates. “If people vaccinated their children and themselves, these diseases would be eradicated,” he said. Since 2000, certain areas across the state have seen an increase in the number of people who opt out of vaccinations due to personal beliefs. In Orange County, where Disneyland is located and where the measles outbreak is thought to have originated, a high number of parents opted their kindergartners out of vaccinations in 2014. Similarly, the stretch of the California coast from Malibu to San Luis Obispo had high opt-out rates, according to the Washington Post.

“It’s an issue of more than individual liberty,” Fisk said, adding that neighbors, coworkers, and friends could be affected. For “herd immunity” to be effective, 95 percent of the members of a community must be vaccinated. (There is some variability in that percent, he added.) Herd immunity helps protect those who are too young to receive vaccines and those who may have health restrictions that prevent their use.

Dean cautioned people to first call their health care provider — rather than walking into a doctor’s office — if they show signs of the virus. Residents who are uninsured or are low-income can receive a measles vaccination at one of the county’s health care centers. For more information, call 681-4373.


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