Measles numbers on the rise from Disneyland exposure

By Shanley Chien

The measles outbreak originating from people exposed to the virus at Disneyland over the holiday season is still spreading,  though there are no confirmed cases in Illinois associated with the theme park exposure.

The recent measles outbreak linked to the Disneyland exposure over the holiday season came on the heels of the country’s worst year of reported cases since the measles was declared eradicated in 2000.

Graphic credit: CDC
(Graphic credit: CDC)

Maleney Arnold, communications director at the Illinois Department of Public Health, said no cases of measles have been reported in the state in connection with the Disneyland exposure and it is unlikely that any new cases will be reported here.

The park identified five cast members who  contracted the virus, three of whom have fully recovered and are back to work, according to a Disneyland spokesman. The remaining two cast members’ current status is still unknown, he said.

Any other employee who may have come in contact with someone with measles is required to take paid leave from work until they’ve been medically cleared.

California health officials have reported a total of 59 cases of measles in California since the exposure period in December, with 20 in Orange County where Disneyland is located and that includes the five park cast members. Of the 20 confirmed cases, 12 are linked to the Disneyland exposure and eight cases within the community have no known link, said Tricia Landquist, a public information officer at the Orange County Health Care Agency.

On a national scale, three cases related to visits to Disneyland were discovered in Utah, two in Washington, one in Colorado and a new case in Oregon. Mexico also reported one case of an unvaccinated 22-month-old girl who was exposed during her visit to the theme park. Earlier this week, 51 cases had been reported.

Dr. Pamela Hymel, chief medical officer at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said park officials are taking special measures in-house to ensure that their employees receive medical care to prevent further exposure of the virus.

“As soon as the OC Health Care Agency notified us on Jan. 7, we immediately began to communicate to our cast to raise awareness,” Hymel said. “In an abundance of caution, we also offered vaccinations and immunity tests.”

“In this case [Disneyland] is simply the location in which an exposure took place,” the spokesman said. Because of the concentration of people at the iconic park, the illness spread regionally beyond  Disneyland, he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website describes measles as a highly contagious virus that spreads through respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing and can affect 90 percent of unvaccinated individuals who come in contact with an infected person. Initial symptoms of a measles infection are similar to a common cold, including coughing, runny nose, red, watery eyes and high fever. After a few days of exposure, infected individuals will experience red, blotchy rashes on the face before they spread to the rest of the body.

Measles rose to record highs in 2014. The year ended with a measles outbreak resulting from the spread of the disease from an infected visitor at  Disneyland. (Animation scripted by Grace Eleyae; produced by Next Media Animation.)

The CDC’s most recent report shows that 91.9 percent of children between the ages of 19 and 35 months old have been vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella. However, the country reached a record high of 644 reported cases in 27 states last year since the U.S. declared measles eradicated in 2000. Most of the people infected were unvaccinated.

Although Illinois does not currently have an outbreak of measles, the IDPH and doctors still strongly urge parents to talk with pediatricians to get their children vaccinated.

“Chicago and all other cities in the U.S. are at risk for a measles outbreak given the mobility of our society and the number of unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated individuals in the community,” said Dr. Tina Tan, an infectious diseases physician at Lurie’s Children Hospital and professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, in an email.

Although compelling medical and scientific evidence proves the benefits of vaccinations as a means of preventing the spread of infectious diseases, many people are still opposed to immunizing their children out of an unfounded fear that vaccines are linked to autism and are “experimental or unsafe,” Tan said. Comprehensive scientific research has debunked this belief multiple times in hopes of convincing the outliers that adverse effects are not true, but Tan said it’s a constant battle with certain parents to even consider getting their children immunized.

“These unvaccinated individuals place not only themselves at risk, but persons who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and other unvaccinated persons,” Tan said. “The best protection is to ensure that people are up to date with their vaccines.”

For families that are unable to get vaccinations due to financial reasons, the state offers a federally funded program to help children get the proper medical treatment. For more information about vaccines and immunizations, please contact your local clinic.

Photo at top: Measles was declared eliminated in 2000, but now cases are on the rise. (Next Media Animations)