Dozens of students and staff at two Los Angeles universities have been placed in quarantine because they may have been exposed to measles and either have not been vaccinated or can't verify that they have immunity.
Friday Update: Measles Quarantine Dwindles
Also Thursday, county health officials announced another case of measles in a person who flew in and out of Los Angeles International Airport while infectious, as they continue to reach out to more than 1,500 people who may have been exposed to measles by five others with confirmed cases of the highly contagious infection.
Measles in the United States has climbed to its highest level in 25 years, closing in on 700 cases this year in a resurgence largely attributed to misinformation that is turning parents against vaccines. Roughly three-quarters of this year's illnesses have been in New York state.
The University of California, Los Angeles, said Wednesday that there were 119 students and 8 faculty members under quarantine, though 43 students and two in the faculty were released by Thursday afternoon after they proved the were immunized.
Seventy-one students and 127 staff members are quarantined at California State University, Los Angeles after a possible measles exposure at a campus library, school officials said.
UCLA announced the quarantines Wednesday in a message from Chancellor Gene Block:
On Monday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) notified UCLA that one of our students had contracted the measles. We were also informed that the student had attended classes at Franz Hall and Boelter Hall on three days — April 2, 4 and 9 — while contagious. The student did not enter any other buildings while on campus.
... Upon learning of this incident, UCLA immediately identified and notified more than 500 students, faculty and staff with whom the student may have come into contact or who may have otherwise been exposed. They were also provided with detailed information about treatment and prevention.
Most of those individuals have since been cleared, but we are still awaiting medical records from 119 students and eight faculty members to determine whether they are immune to the measles. As a result, LACDPH has decided to quarantine those individuals until their immunity is determined. We expect that those notified will be quarantined for approximately 24-48 hours until their proof of immunity is established. A few may need to remain in quarantine for up to seven days. We have arranged for those who live on campus to be cared for at UCLA while they are quarantined.
The latest case was confirmed in a person who arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on April 18, was in the arrival area of Tom Bradley International Terminal between 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. and departed from Gate 37A in Terminal 3 between 4 and 11:30 p.m.
People who may have been there at the same time may be at risk of developing measles for up to 21 days after being exposed, health officials said in a statement.
"We're very worried about measles,'' Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the board of supervisors on Tuesday.
She said the county is taking a three-pronged approach to dealing with the infection in the face of outbreaks in New York, Northern California and around the world, which includes efforts to reach out to everyone exposed and, if they are not vaccinated against measles, asking them to stay home for 21 days to avoid spreading the infection.
Ninety percent of people who are not immunized will come down with the measles if they come into contact with an infected individual, Ferrer said.
But the double-dose vaccine is highly effective and lasts a lifetime for those who have been immunized.
Anyone who develops measles symptoms should contact their doctor by phone before visiting their doctor's office.
Infected people can infect those around them before they have symptoms and know they are infected, and the measles virus can be transmitted from one person to another up to four days before the onset of a rash, health officials said.
Common symptoms associated with measles include fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and a rash which usually appears 10 to 21 days after exposure.
Even doctors aren't particularly familiar with the symptoms because the infection has not been widespread for many years.
Reaching out to health care providers and residents countywide are the other two parts of the county's approach to prevent further spread of measles.
Free vaccines for uninsured and underinsured individuals are being offered at L.A. County's 14 public health clinics.
Ferrer said her department was coordinating with LAX officials to make sure that the word about free vaccines got out to 7,000 workers at LAX, identified as a point of potential exposure on April 1.
Health officials were also reaching out to UCLA and Cal State Los Angeles — two other points of possible exposure — to offer free vaccines to students without means.
The majority of the victims were unvaccinated.
"We will likely see additional measles cases in Los Angeles County, so it is important if you or someone you know has the symptoms of measles or has been exposed to measles to contact your health care provider by phone right away before seeking treatment," Los Angeles County Health Officer Muntu Davis said. "The best way to protect yourself and to prevent the spread of measles is to get the measles immunization, with two doses of measles immunization being about 97-percent effective at preventing measles.''
The following locations have been identified as points of potential measles exposure:
- LAX, Tom Bradley International Terminal, Gate 218 on April 1 from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- UCLA's Franz Hall on April 2, 4, and 9 and Boelter Hall on April 2 and 9 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m;
- Cal State Los Angeles' main library, on April 11 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; — El Pollo Loco restaurant, 1939 Verdugo Blvd., La Canada Flintridge, on April 11 from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and
- El Sauz Tacos, 4432 San Fernando Road, Glendale, on April 13 from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Supervisor Hilda Solis previewed a motion recommended support for state legislation to boost school immunization requirements by standardizing exemptions statewide.
"In 2000, measles was declared eliminated in North America. Since January 2019, however, there have been over 600 reported cases in the United States,'' she said. "Unvaccinated people, especially children and pregnant women, are at the highest risk for measles and complications from measles.''
She plans to formally submit the motion next week.
California typically sees fewer than two dozen cases a year. This year, California's cases stretch across 11 counties and affect patients from 5 months old to 55.
Questions and Answers About Measles, from the CDC:
I’ve been exposed to someone who has measles. What should I do?
A: Immediately call your doctor and let him or her know that you have been exposed to someone who has measles. Your doctor can determine if you are immune to measles based on your vaccination record, age, or laboratory evidence, and
make special arrangements to evaluate you, if needed, without putting other patients and medical office staff at risk. If you are not immune to measles, MMR vaccine or a medicine called immune globulin may help reduce your risk developing measles. Your doctor can help to advise you, and monitor you for signs and symptoms of measles. If you do not get MMR or immune globulin, you should stay away from settings where there are susceptible people (such as school, hospital, or child care) until your doctor says it’s okay to return. This will help ensure that you do not spread it to others.
Could I still get measles if I am fully vaccinated?
A: Very few people — about three out of 100 — who get two doses of measles vaccine will still get measles if exposed to the virus. Experts aren’t sure why. It could be that their immune systems didn’t respond as well as they should have to the vaccine. But the good news is, fully vaccinated people who get measles are much more likely to have a milder illness. And fully vaccinated people are also less likely to spread the disease to other people, including people who can’t get vaccinated because they are too young or have weakened immune systems.
Do I ever need a booster vaccine?
A: No. CDC considers people who received two doses of measles vaccine as children according to the U.S. vaccination schedule protected for life, and they do not ever need a booster dose. Adults need at least one dose of measles vaccine, unless they have evidence of immunity. Adults who are going to be in a setting that poses a high risk for measles transmission should make sure they have had two doses separated by at least 28 days. These adults include students at post-high school education institutions, health care personnel, and international travelers. If you’re not sure whether you were vaccinated, talk with your doctor. See more information about who needs measles vaccine here.
What should I do if I’m unsure whether I’m immune to measles?
A: If you’re unsure whether you’re immune to measles, you should first try to find your vaccination records or documentation of measles immunity. If you do not have written documentation of measles immunity, you should get vaccinated with measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. Another option is to have a doctor test your blood to determine whether you’re immune. But this option is likely to cost more and will take two doctor’s visits. There is no harm in getting another dose of MMR vaccine if you may already be immune to measles (or mumps or rubella).
The Associated Press contributed to this report.