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As Measles Outbreak Spreads, Some Babies Under Isolation


Let's get an update on the measles. There are now more than a hundred cases in California and other states, and most of them can be linked back to that outbreak that started in Disneyland. Health officials are trying to stop this from spreading further. In Alameda County in California, officials are telling parents whose babies have been exposed to the virus to keep their children at home. NPR's Patti Neighmond has more.

PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: The babies have to be isolated at home for 21 days. They were exposed to someone who had measles either in school or day care or even the doctor's office. Dr. Erica Pan is a pediatric infectious disease specialist and heads the county's disease prevention division which tracks measles cases.

ERICA PAN: We look into who might have been exposed, not only at the same time as when a person was in the room, but for up to an hour afterwards because measles, again, is so infectious and contagious that it's airborne, and it can linger in the air.

NEIGHMOND: And babies under the age of 1 are particularly susceptible because they haven't been vaccinated. Their immune systems aren't developed enough to benefit from the vaccine.

PAN: If there was a measles case in a room of 10 infants, our presumption is that 9 out of 10 would become infected with measles.

NEIGHMOND: The virus causes fever, cough and a spotted body rash, but it can be so much worse. Children under 5 are more likely to get complications, including ear infections that can result in permanent hearing loss. And there can be even more tragic complications.

PAN: About 1 to 2 in 1,000 cases actually die or have a brain infection.

NEIGHMOND: Measles was eradicated from the U.S. in the year 2000. Health officials suspect the virus was brought to Disneyland by an international traveler from a country where measles is common. Once here, those who aren't vaccinated are vulnerable. That includes infants as well as children whose parents choose not to vaccinate them. 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.