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Measles cases rising in California, health officials say

May 13, 2011 |  5:49 pm

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As the summer vacation season nears, measles cases are on the rise in California, driven by unimmunized travelers infected elsewhere who are entering the state, health officials said Friday.

"We see that as worrisome," Dr. Gilberto Chavez, deputy director of the California Department of Public Health, said in an interview.

Those infected with measles include not only unimmunized Californians traveling abroad, but foreign visitors to the state and others who simply came in contact with infected travelers,  Chavez said.

Measles is considered eliminated in the Western Hemisphere, with very few cases of illness, but it is a significant problem in Europe, Asia and Africa.

A measles outbreak in Europe has spread through 30 countries, with 6,500 people infected so far this year. France has been hit the worst. In one hot spot in Belgium, the virus is hitting hardest unimmunized children -- those whose parents don’t believe in vaccinations and infants who have not yet been inoculated, according to the World Health Organization.

Measles is also spreading through India and the Philippines.

Although infants are traditionally given inoculations after they reach 1 year of age, Chavez said infants who are traveling abroad can receive the measles vaccine as early as 6 months of age.

So far this year, there have been 13 measles cases in California, with seven reported in April alone. Four patients have been hospitalized.

Health officials are concerned because measles can spread very quickly, especially if it takes root in a population of unvaccinated people.

In 2008, a 7-year-old boy triggered a measles outbreak in San Diego after he returned, infected, from a family trip to Switzerland. The boy infected his two siblings and nine other children at his public charter school and a doctor’s office. His parents had chosen not to vaccinate him or his siblings. The outbreak forced about 70 children to be quarantined at home.

In other medical news, the disease whooping cough, also known as pertussis, still remains a problem in California. Although levels have fallen from the height of the epidemic last year, the disease still remains at higher rates than normal, health officials said. Between January and mid-April, 733 people were infected with the disease. Last year, there were 9,273 cases, and 10 infants died.
 
Chavez reminded parents that a new state law will require middle and high school students to show proof that they have received the Tdap shot before entering school this fall. The Tdap booster shot protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

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Rise in measles prompts concern

Children's earliest memories shift as they get older, study finds

Measles may be forgotten, and sometimes unrecognized, but it's not gone

-- Rong-Gong Lin II

Photo: Tamika Swearingen, at Hollywood-Wilshire County Health‚ loads measles vaccine into a syringe. Credit: Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times

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