Measles has now been confirmed in 59 California residents. Additionally, there are a handful of related cases in Utah, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Mexico—bringing the 2015 total to 67, according to the California Department of Public Health.
The patients in California range in age between seven months and 70 years, and at least 28 of them were unvaccinated. But that wasn’t all by choice: Six are infants who are too young to receive the shot. The first dose of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine is typically given to children 12 months or older, with the second dose administered before they start kindergarten around age five.
Of the confirmed cases, 42 have been linked to Disneyland or Disney California Adventure Park in Orange County. These include five park employees, and any staff who had contact with their measles-stricken coworkers have been asked to stay home or provide proof that either they have been vaccinated or are immune, Disney officials told the Los Angeles Times. “In an abundance of caution, we also offered vaccinations and immunity tests,” Pamela Hymel of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts said. They were notified by the Orange County Health Care Agency on January 7.
Earlier this month, two dozen unvaccinated students were sent home from a high school in the same county for three weeks. “It is at large in the community now, and particularly infants too young to be immunized, people with other health conditions and, of course, people who aren’t immunized need to be very concerned,” the agency’s Deanne Thompson tells the Orange County Register. “They really should rethink that and consider getting vaccinated.”
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that spreads rapidly through the air from coughing and sneezing. The initial exposures occurred in December, but additional confirmed cases visited the parks while they were infectious in January. Less than two weeks ago, only nine cases were confirmed in this California-centered outbreak.
Because there are also cases where the patients haven’t visited Disneyland—or any venues where travelers congregate, such as other amusement parks and airports—the health department recommends that measles be considered in any patient with clinically compatible symptoms at this time. It usually starts with a fever that lasts a couple of days, followed by coughing, runny nose, pink eye, and a rash that appears on the face, hairline, behind the ears, and eventually the entire body.
The U.S. experienced a record number of measles cases in 2014, with 644 cases in 27 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s the greatest number of cases since measles elimination was documented in the country in 2000.