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Measles Outbreak Spreads; Unvaccinated Urged To Get Vaccine


Now an update on that measles outbreak that started at Disneyland in California. The number of cases has risen to 88. Most of those infected live in California, and most were not vaccinated. NPR's Patti Neighmond reports.

PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: California health officials want to prevent the disease from spreading further, but it's a difficult task. Measles is highly contagious. Dr. Eric Handler is public health officer for Orange County, Calif., home to most of the state's measles cases.

ERIC HANDLER: Individuals are infectious four days before they come down with symptoms, which are fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes. And they're contagious four days after the rash appears.

NEIGHMOND: So people can spread the disease even before they know they have it and after they think they're better. The two-dose vaccine is nearly 100 percent effective, but children under the age of 1 are too young to be vaccinated. So Handler says parents should be cautious when taking their infants on outings.

HANDLER: Crowded areas, in particular, that you would kind of hope to avoid, and not just Disneyland, but malls and things like that where there are crowds of people. I would be cautious taking my infant into those environments.

NEIGHMOND: If infants are in a room with someone who has measles, Handler says they have a 90 percent chance of becoming infected. There can be serious complications, like middle ear infections, pneumonia and brain infections that require hospitalization. At the beginning of school, Handler told parents if there was a measles outbreak, they'd have to prove their child was vaccinated, or their child would be excluded from school for 21 days. At one county high school, 24 students have been told to stay home.

HANDLER: We gave them plenty of notice. I'm sure they're not happy, and hopefully, this will incentivize them to get vaccinated.

NEIGHMOND: A recent study from Kaiser Permanente found under-vaccinated children in Northern California tended to live in the same area, which can magnify outbreaks. Pediatrician Tracy Lieu headed the study, which found a greater likelihood of under-vaccinated children in neighborhoods were more parents had higher education.

TRACY LIEU: Anecdotally, pediatricians tend to find that parents with high education levels often come in with many questions about vaccines and vaccine safety.

NEIGHMOND: The vaccine has been shown to be safe. Side effects are usually mild, such as a fever or rash. More serious side effects, including high fevers, are uncommon. Lieu's study also found more under-vaccinated children in low-income neighborhoods.

LIEU: In lower-income communities, there tends to be more competing priorities that parents face in their lives. So just getting your child to the doctor for a well child visit may be more of a challenge.

NEIGHMOND: California health officials say the best prevention for this highly contagious and often serious disease is to get fully vaccinated. Patti Neighmond, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Award-winning journalist Patti Neighmond is NPR's health policy correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.