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San Diego Doctors On High Alert For Measles

Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are seen in a cooler at the Rockland Coun...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are seen in a cooler at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y., Wednesday, March 27, 2019.

A growing number of measles outbreaks across the U.S., including in California, has San Diego County health officials on high alert.

“It just takes one person to bring the measles back to our community and then we have to deal with potential spread here,” said Mark Sawyer, M.D., infectious disease specialist with Rady Children’s Hospital and UC San Diego.

Measles is one of the world’s most contagious diseases. According to the World Health Organization, a single cough or sneeze from an infected person can spread the virus to everyone around them who is not vaccinated or who has never had the measles. The virus can remain active in the air for as long as two hours.

“So if a case comes here to our emergency department or one of our clinics or admitted into the hospital, we need to make sure we isolate them right away. Otherwise we could potentially have a spread of measles inside the hospital,” Sawyer said.

There are no recent reports of measles cases in San Diego County, he said.

“But we’re always on the lookout,” he said, “because people travel to places where the measles is occurring and then return to San Diego. And if they’re susceptible then they’re going to bring measles back to San Diego with them.”

Symptoms begin with a runny nose, cough and red eyes, followed by a rash and high fever.

“It can be complicated by pneumonia or brain infection and then encephalitis,” Sawyer said. “And it can even be fatal in one or two cases per thousand.”

San Diego County health officials are working with physicians to be on the lookout for measles and urging people to get vaccinated.

“We can’t treat measles, so that’s why we emphasize the vaccine so much because we can prevent it , but we can’t treat it,” Sawyer said. “And I want to reassure people that (the vaccine) is extremely safe and it has been used in literally billions of people by now around the world over the last 50 years.”

Sawyer said San Diego generally has a few cases of measles every year.

“We had a small outbreak in 2008 in a cluster of un-immunized children in their school and that led to a bunch of other people being exposed,” he said. “And of course people will remember the Disneyland outbreak a few years ago where a single person with measles managed to eventually infect 100 people or more.”

A single cough or sneeze from an infected person can spread the virus to everyone around them who is not vaccinated or who has never had the measles.

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