The symptoms range from ordinary to grim: fever over 101 degrees, cough, runny nose, red watery eyes and, then, the clincher — a rash that starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body.
With thousands of people potentially exposed to measles earlier this month at Disneyland, Los Angeles International Airport and several other locations in Los Angeles and Orange counties, health officials are urging those who may be vulnerable to watch for those symptoms of the potentially deadly disease.
Anyone who develops the symptoms, especially those who haven’t been vaccinated against measles or aren’t sure they have, should stay home and call a doctor to schedule a visit, health officials said.
“Tell them that you might have measles before you go in, so they can take steps to prevent other patients and staff from being exposed,” a statement released by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health Friday advised.
Because symptoms such as fever and cough are common, they alone are unlikely to indicate measles, said L.A. County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser.
“However, there are certain other signs such as conjunctivitis (red eyes) and Koplik spots that are more specific to measles, so if a person has a rash and a high fever, they should seek medical evaluation and their provider can do further tests to assess whether this is measles,” Gunzenhauser said in a statement.
Although early measles can imitate other illnesses, for public health consideration physicians should “be thinking possible measles even without the classic rash,” said infectious-disease
specialist Dr. Robert Winters.
That’s because the rash appears three to five days after the onset of other symptoms, and patients can be contagious four days before the development of the rash.
“Infected contagious patients may be out in the community before a measles diagnosis is made,” Winters said. “Thus, many people can become infected from this one individual.”
The warning was prompted by the potential exposure of thousands of people to the measles virus carried by a New Zealand teenager who visited Southern California from August 11 to 15 while sick with the disease.
A statement from the Orange County Health Care Agency advised those who could have had close contact with the tourist to monitor themselves for symptoms that could arise from seven to 21 days after exposure, or through Sept. 5.
Officials said they were attempting to identify any exposed individuals who were not immune.
“As needed, we may quarantine or restrict the activities of persons who may be ‘incubating’ the illness,” a statement from the L.A. County Department of Public Health said.
Among other symptoms, measles can cause ear infections and diarrhea and more serious illnesses
such as pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling around the brain), and even death.
Children under 6, pregnant women and people with weakened
immune systems because of
or HIV are more likely to develop serious health problems.
There is no cure for measles. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and managing the related health problems.
Vaccination doesn’t help prevent the disease in cases where exposure has already occurred, but people should review their vaccination histories to ensure against future exposure, the advisories said.
“Getting vaccinated is the best way to keep from getting and spreading measles,” a fact sheet posted by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said.
Measles immunizations are available at doctor’s offices, pharmacies and health clinics. Public Health clinics offer no or low-cost immunizations for individuals who are uninsured or underinsured.
News of the potential exposure comes as the country grapples with its worst measles outbreak in decades. As of Aug. 15, 1,203 people have been diagnosed with measles this year, compared with 372 in all of 2018.
There have been 65 recorded cases of measles in California this year. Officials urge anyone who has not been vaccinated to get immunized; most people who have contracted measles in the state were not immunized.
Orange County officials said visitors may have been exposed to measles while at Disneyland or California Adventure on Aug. 12, or at the Desert Palms Hotel in Anaheim between Aug. 11 and 15.
Los Angeles health officials provided an additional list of locations where people may have been exposed to measles:
- Los Angeles International Airport Terminal 8: Aug. 11 between 9 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.
- Universal Studios: Aug. 14
- TCL Chinese Theatre at 6925 Hollywood Blvd: Aug. 15
- Madame Tussauds at 6933 Hollywood Blvd: Aug. 15
- The Original Farmers Market at 6333 W 3rd St.: Aug. 15
- Santa Monica Pier and Beach: Aug. 15
- LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal: Aug. 15 between 6 p.m. and 11:59 p.m.