Measles Outbreak Forces Quarantine at UCLA

Measles can be prevented by vaccination with measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. (AP file photo/Eric Risberg)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – The University of California, Los Angeles, quarantined more than 120 students and staff Thursday who have contracted measles or may have been exposed to it amid fears of a continuing outbreak in LA County.

An outbreak on UCLA’s campus led university staff, working in tandem with city health staff, to quarantine 119 students and eight faculty members.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement the university moved quickly to respond to potential exposure cases – contacting over 500 students and staff and setting up care at campus hospitals – after being contacted by LA health officials April 22.

“Considering the time that has elapsed since the last possible exposure to the individual with measles on April 9, the highest risk period for developing measles has already passed – and the period during which symptoms may appear is nearing the end,” Block said in the statement. “Please be assured that we have the resources we need for prevention and treatment, and that we are working very closely with local public health officials on the matter.”

Officials said the quarantine will continue until students and staff can prove their immunity to the virus.

As of Thursday afternoon, UCLA cleared 43 of the 119 students and two of the eight faculty members who established proof of their immunity, reducing the total number quarantined to 82.

UCLA officials expect more people will be able to provide proof of immunization through medical records or through testing.

On Wednesday, the California Department of Public Health confirmed 38 measles cases in the Golden State – and the figure is expected to rise in coming weeks. Officials said vaccination is a critical protection against the virus, especially for those who plan to travel internationally.

“Vaccination is the only way to ensure you and your family members will not get measles,” said state Public Health Officer Karen Smith in a statement. “Make sure you and your family are fully vaccinated before travelling internationally, and contact your health care provider immediately if anyone develops a rash and a fever while you are abroad, or when you return.”

Although California has a relatively high rate of vaccinations against measles – 95% of children entering kindergarten have been vaccinated – those who haven’t still pose a risk to the public, Smith said.

“Our vaccination rates have helped to stop the spread of measles in California,” Smith said. “However, as evidenced by the outbreaks to date, the remaining unvaccinated and undervaccinated Californians are at risk.”

Of the cases so far this year, 14 involved international travelers, 22 cases were spread by travelers to Californians and 2 cases are of unknown source, Smith’s agency said.

Six cases have been confirmed in LA County.

LA County health officer Muntu Davis said Thursday that residents’ chance of exposure has increased amid national and international measles outbreaks.

“Travel and attending large-scale events, especially in places with ongoing outbreaks, can increase your chances of exposure to measles,” Davis said in a statement. “This underscores the importance for those who are not immune to measles to get the measles immunization.”

LA county health officials confirmed Thursday that the sixth case involved a traveler who flew in and out of Los Angeles International Airport on April 18.

Officials said anyone who was at LAX’s international terminal between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. or Terminal 3 between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. April 18 may be at risk of developing measles for up to 21 days after exposure.

Travelers who may have been exposed at LAX have already been contacted, health officials said, adding that there is no current risk of exposure at the airport.

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection which can be spread through the air, on surfaces and person-to-person.

Someone with the virus can spread it to others even before they have any symptoms. Most people who have not been immunized against measles will get it if exposed.

Common symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and a rash which usually appears 10 to 21 days after exposure. It cannot be treated with antibiotics.

LA County health staff said individuals can protect themselves and prevent the spread of the disease by getting two doses of measles immunization.

The last widespread outbreak of measles in California affected 131 residents and was linked to visitors to Disneyland in Anaheim between December 2014 and April 2015.

State lawmakers advanced legislation Wednesday that, if passed, would give state health officials authority to review medical exemptions in order to determine whether parents are using valid reasons to send unvaccinated children to school.

The proposal, Senate Bill 276, builds on a 2015 law that removed the longstanding personal-belief exemption available to parents.

Currently, children must be immunized in order to attend public school unless they receive a medical exemption from their doctor.

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