More than 100 cases of measles have now been confirmed in the United States, including 91 in California, as an outbreak that began at Disneyland in December continues to spread, public health officials said on Friday.
The California Department of Public Health said at least 58 of the cases of the highly infectious disease in the state have been directly linked to the Disneyland cluster. More than a dozen other cases thought to be tied to the outbreak have been confirmed in 13 other U.S. states and in Mexico.
Measles is a highly contagious virus that can spread through a sneeze or cough before a person even develops symptoms. The virus can remain airborne and live on surfaces for an extended period of time, making transmission easier to take place but harder to trace. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 9 out of 10 people who have close contact with a measles patient will become infected themselves, unless they are immune. Symptoms include fever, runny nose and a blotchy rash.
The White House on Friday urged parents to heed the advice of public health officials and scientists in getting their children vaccinated.
“People should evaluate this for themselves with a bias toward good science and toward the advice of our public health professionals,” said President Barack Obama’s spokesman Josh Earnest. Asked whether people should be getting vaccinated, Earnest said: “That’s what the science indicates.”
The measles outbreak has renewed a debate over the so-called anti-vaccination movement in which fears about potential side effects of vaccines, fueled by now-debunked research suggesting a link to autism, have led a minority of parents to refuse to allow their children to be inoculated.
Measles was officially declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 after decades of intensive childhood vaccine efforts. But last year the nation had its highest number of measles cases in two decades — a dangerous trend that health officials say is largely attributable to the growing numbers of unvaccinated children.
In addition to California, since December cases of measles have been confirmed in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington state, as well as Mexico. In Arizona, health officials are monitoring more than 1,000 people who could have been exposed to measles at the Phoenix Children’s East Valley Center after a woman who visited the medical facility was found to have the disease.
Health officials have not found “patient zero”, or the person who triggered the Disneyland-linked outbreak. But they think it’s someone who caught the virus outside the country and visited one of the Disney theme parks during the holidays. The virus then took hold among pockets of unvaccinated U.S. residents.
Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement urging parents, schools and communities to vaccinate children against measles. The group said all children should get the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) between 12 and 15 months of age and again between 4 and 6 years old. According to the CDC, two doses of the MMR vaccine are about 97 percent effective at preventing measles.