So far, county steers clear of measles after outbreak

Jazlyn Herrera raises her hand to answer a question during her seventh grade Spanish literature elective class at Maze Middle School in 2014.

There have been no confirmed cases of measles in San Benito County since a person infected with the virus visited Costco and Walmart in Gilroy on Jan. 18.
But it doesn’t mean the red rash—which starts on someone’s head and moves to his or her feet—isn’t on the minds of health care providers and school district administrators.
“This is a good reminder for us that vaccine-preventable disease are only preventable if people get vaccinated,” said Dr. Anju Goel, the county’s public health officer.
Earlier this month, Senators Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Ben Allen, D-Redondo Beach, introduced legislation that would prevent parents from sending unvaccinated children to school with a “personal belief exemption,” according to the Associated Press and Allen’s website.
In the Hollister School District, more than 99 percent­­ of students have vaccinations, said superintendent Gary McIntire. Of the less than 1 percent opting out of immunizations, most did so with personal belief exemptions, he said.
High immunization rates in the Hollister School District, though, aren’t the case everywhere in the state or nation. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 6, 121 people from 17 states were reported to have measles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Most of the cases were part of an outbreak linked to Disneyland in California.
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus, which starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and sore throat followed by a rash that spreads all over the body, according to the CDC website.
The virus is contagious from four days before the onset of the rash to four days after the onset of the rash, Goel said. It can lead to pneumonia, an infection around the brain and even death, she said.
Measles can be prevented with vaccinations, which are 99 percent effective after two doses, Goel said.
“Measles, itself, even without complications, is a very uncomfortable illness and it does cost us—not just in health, but in time missed at school and at work,” Goel said.
In California, parents don’t need to get their children vaccinated if they secure an exemption. They can opt out of immunizations if they don’t want a child vaccinated for religious, medical or personal belief reasons. One common reason for rejecting vaccines is the concern that immunizing children may make them more likely to become autistic. Goel disagrees.
“They’ve really shown quite consistently multiple times that there is no link at all between vaccines and autism,” Goel said.
No cases of measles had been reported in San Benito County as of late last week, but a person infected with measles did visit two stores across the county line in Gilroy on Jan. 18, leading local county health officials to send notices to health care providers asking them to consider measles in situations where they are treating a patient with a rash and a fever. Staff members have not reached out to school districts, Goel said.
“If we had a case in the county and that person had exposed people in a school district, then we would certainly alert that district and have them send out notices,” Goel said. “We’re not in that situation so we don’t routinely contact schools when we don’t know of any infection in them.”
Administrators in the Hollister School District haven’t been talking much about the measles.
“We are alert to it but we need to follow the direction from the public health department in how to respond,” McIntire said. “When it comes to contagion, we don’t respond on our own because it is a public health matter, so that’s where we need to work in unison with and follow the direction of the department.”
McIntire, who calls himself a “pro-vaccine person,” was proud of the “tremendously high” immunization rate, which makes an outbreak of measles in the district less likely.
People can get the measles vaccine, even as adults, and Goel calls immunizations in general “one of the most significant public health advancements in the last century.”
McIntire agrees they are important.
“That’s our first line of defense and they are required,” McIntire said. “We do have policies for excluding kids if they don’t have immunizations or an exemption isn’t submitted.”

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