California’s Department of Public Health confirmed Monday seven more cases of measles tied to outbreaks from Disney theme parks in California, bringing the total number of infected to 26 across four states — all of which have been traced back to a single unvaccinated traveler.
The first confirmed cases began in January. Most of the infections occurred in people who had visited either the Disneyland or Disney California Adventure theme parks between Dec. 15 and Dec. 20 last year, with others contracting the illness through contact with those infected.
The measles virus is highly contagious — it can live for up to two hours on surfaces and is transmitted through an infected person’s coughs or sneezes (i.e., airborne transmission). In fact, measles is so contagious that “90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected”, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So far, California has confirmed 22 cases in seven counties, making this the worst outbreak the state has seen in at least 15 years. Meanwhile, two cases have been confirmed in Utah, and one each in Washington state and Colorado. Health officials are now monitoring hundreds of people in each state who may have also been exposed.
The outbreak has been traced by health officials to an unvaccinated California woman in her 20s who became ill after visiting Disneyland. She then flew from Orange County to Seattle and stayed with family in Washington’s Snohomish County before returning to California, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Because the measles virus is airborne and has a nine-day infectious period, Dr. Ron Chapman, director of California’s Department of Public Health, advised those who may have been infected to call a physician before seeking treatment in order to prevent spreading the virus further.
“The best way to prevent measles and its spread is to get vaccinated,” Chapman said in a statement.
The measles virus — the “most deadly of all childhood rash/fever illnesses”, according to the CDC — was classified as eliminated in the United States in 2000, though the virus has found its way back to the U.S. on occasion by international travelers, who then infect communities with low rates of vaccination.
Though the vaccine is approximately 99 percent effective against measles, a recent anti-vaccination movement in the US has falsely linked autism to the vaccines. Scientists have thoroughly decried the claims as false and misleading. Nevertheless, the movement has been linked to the record number of measles cases in 2014. Last year, 644 cases were confirmed, accounting for a nearly two-decade high.
With 26 cases already confirmed in the first two weeks of 2015, the anti-vaccine movement looks to be in for another record-breaking year of preventable disease.