As the number of confirmed measles cases climbed to 67, health officials reminded the public that vaccinations are the safest and most effective way to combat the highly-contagious disease.
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So far, 59 cases have been confirmed in California, as well as three in Utah, two in Washington, and one each in Colorado, Oregon and Mexico. Of the California cases, 42 have been linked to Disneyland, and it's possible more people who have visited the park could get sick, officials said.
“For the time being, if you are not vaccinated, or if you have an infant who is too young to be vaccinated, you should avoid going to Disneyland,” said Dr. Gil Chavez of the California Department of Public Health.
A quarter of those who have contracted the disease have been hospitalized, he said, and infants, pregnant women and anyone with a compromised immune system could face potentially deadly complications, such as pneumonia or encephalitis.
“People are really not aware of how dangerous this disease can be in children,” he said.
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The highly-contagious virus spread to other visitors to the theme park, as well as several Disneyland employees, Chavez said. Other people who were sick with measles also spent time at Disneyland in January.
The most recent confirmed case, on Jan. 18, was a Disneyland employee.
“Measles can be very contagious, even before there are symptoms,” Chavez said.
Of the confirmed cases, most were intentionally unvaccinated, Chavez said. Six were children under the age of 1, too young to receive the vaccine.
For people who have received two doses of the vaccine, the standard since 1989, it is 99% effective, Chavez said. Most older Americans received one dose of the vaccine, which is 95% effective.
The vast majority of Californians have been immunized, but a growing minority of parents are choosing not to immunize their children. Chavez stressed that there is no evidence to back concerns that drive many parents to opt out of required childhood immunizations. He asked anyone who had not been vaccinated to reconsider, noting that the spread of outbreaks could prove fatal to those too young to receive their MMR shot.
“We have a particular responsibility to protect all of our infants in the state until they are old enough to be vaccinated,” he said.