Measles awareness in Merced County has heightened since last week’s report of a child in the area testing positive for the highly contagious viral disease.
The child was under the age of 5, and had received one of the two vaccinations recommended to protect against measles. The child, who wasn’t identified, has since recovered.
In Merced County, this continues to be the only confirmed case. Local health officials have had another 12 suspected cases tested, but all the results were negative.
According to officials at the Merced County Department of Public Health, because the child was not of school age, the exposure was limited.
“The child did not visit a lot of public locations,” said Michael Johnson, assistant director of the county’s Department of Public Health. “Should there have been any concern with a school, we would have worked with the (school) district.”
School officials have been put on high alert. Johnson said that in the next few months, the Department of Public Health will conduct site reviews at schools in the county that will be selected at random by the state.
Leslie Schleth, lead school nurse at the Merced City School District, said last week’s news prompted school nurses to re-evaluate how they identify children who are not immunized against measles.
Schleth explained that when a child enrolls in school, officials check to see if the child is fully immunized. However, she said, there are different reasons why a child might not be vaccinated, including illness or if the parents choose not to have their child vaccinated under a personal belief exemption.
“We can’t deny (parents) that right,” Schleth said. “But we do let them know that we have a legal right to exclude that child (if they are exposed) until they are cleared.”
Children who are not immunized are a source of infection and expose other children, she explained.
Schleth said that, to her knowledge, only one parent has contacted the school district with questions since last week. She believes this is because most parents are aware and informed, especially with all the coverage the state’s measles outbreak has received.
“Parents are more aware than ever of the implications of not vaccinating,” she said.
She added that if a case were confirmed in the city’s K-8 system, which serves about 11,000 students, a districtwide response would be implemented. At this point, health officials do not find that necessary.
Office staff, Schleth said, have a long-standing policy for students who come to school with a rash – one of the main indicators of measles. After news of the local measles case, a rash-policy reminder was sent out to all staff.
She explained that if a student with a rash were to come to school, the staff would contact a school nurse. If the nurse believed there to be reason for concern, the child would be immediately separated from other students and his or her doctor would be contacted.
Johnson said rashes can be tricky, especially during this time of year, when many people develop rashes due to seasonal allergies.
But measles rashes tend to present themselves in a very specific way, usually as flat red spots at the hairline that spread downward to the neck, arms and legs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rash also tends to be accompanied by a fever.
The last time measles was identified in Merced was in 2011, with two cases in the same family.
From December, when an outbreak of measles started at Disneyland in Orange County, to Friday, the California Department of Public Health recorded 132 confirmed cases of measles in the state.
People with questions can call the county Department of Public Health at (209) 381-1200.