What happens when you mix a holiday vacation, a popular theme park and children who have, for one reason or another, not been immunized for the measles? An outbreak of 26 cases of a disease that we thought had been practically wiped out. Many epidemiologists and physicians felt that measles would be the next disease (after smallpox) to be annihilated from the planet. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case.
People visited Disneyland from all over the world, and unbeknownst to them – brought measles with them. In a crowded park with so many people in close contact via lines, rides, food courts, etc., the disease spread. So far, 26 cases have been identified in California, Utah, Colorado, and Washington State. Dr. James Watt, who heads the California Department of Public Health’s Division of community disease Control, states the “a significant number of the Disneyland patients involved people who were not immunized”.
The main problem is that as with other communicable diseases, the people infected have travelled to other places and are possibly and probably spreading the disease to others along the way. Utah officials alone have traced down almost 400 people who have had contact with measles cases.
Measles is a highly contagious disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the initial symptoms are coughing and sneezing followed by a rash that usually begins in the head region and spreads down to the rest of the body. It is highly contagious even before the tell-tale rash appears. It can be especially severe in babies and toddlers. For every 1000 cases, one or two will die from it and one will get brain swelling that can cause convulsions and leave the child deaf or mentally retarded.
Health officials cannot force vaccination, but they warn that “refusing to vaccinate puts children at grave risk of severe illness or death”.