Measles outbreak prompts warning

Health officials concerned disease may spread across country

February 4, 2015


The 2015 measles outbreak already has spread to 84 people, more than health officials typically see in an entire year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Arizona health officials on Thursday were tracking more than 1,000 people, including at least 195 children, who might have been exposed to measles as part of an outbreak that began in Disneyland in southern California and has grown by 67 cases in seven states.

Arizona has seven confirmed cases of measles, and officials in three counties in the Phoenix area- Maricopa, Gila and Pinal- are asking residents who have not been vaccinated and who might have been exposed to stay home from school, work or day care for 21 days.

Two cases have been reported in Maricopa County, home to the University of Phoenix Stadium where Sunday’s game will be played. One apparently caught measles from the Pinal County family, and one had traveled to Disneyland.

Most of the cases are traceable to an outbreak at Disneyland and another theme park in Southern California that began in late December and now has spread to six other states, including Utah, Washington, Oregon and Colorado. In all, measles has reached 14 states, according to Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

While no Patient Zero has been identified, the CDC believes measles probably arrived at Disneyland via an overseas traveler.

“This is a critical point in this outbreak,” the state health director, Will Humble, wrote in his blog. Any missed cases, he wrote, could cause “a long and protracted outbreak.”

Measles is a viral illness that spreads easily through coughing and sneezing. Before vaccinations became common in 1963, about three million to four million Americans contracted it each year, according to the CDC, and about 400 to 500 died from it.

The outbreak has generated sometimes fierce criticism of people who, for personal reasons or because they mistrust the vaccine, choose not to have their children immunized and prompted at least two school systems in California to ban unvaccinated students from school.

The United States declared measles eliminated in 2000, but it has been resurgent in recent years, fueled by huge epidemics in other countries that were imported into the United States by travelers and spread mostly among unvaccinated people. Last year, for example, when the measles toll in Philippines reached 50,000 cases, The United States saw 644, including a cluster in Ohio among unvaccinated people in the Amish community.

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