For the first time in two months, no new flu-related deaths were reported this week in the Bay Area, but state health officials said cases of the measles are on the rise.
While 35 flu deaths confirmed statewide brought California's total to 278 for the season, none of the cases confirmed between Feb. 14 and Feb. 21 were in the Bay Area, health officials said. Though the number suggests a hopeful trend for the region that has to date lost 51 residents to the flu, health officials warned that three Bay Area counties account for nearly a third of the state's uptick in measles cases, none of which have so far been fatal.
Of the 15 measles cases confirmed statewide, two were in Contra Costa County, one in Alameda County and one in San Mateo County, said Gil Chavez, deputy director and epidemiologist for the CDPH. While an infected student who traveled to and from UC Berkeley was confirmed to be one of the Contra Costa County cases, officials could not say whether any of the other Bay Area victims had been infected by that person.
Chavez said that of the 15 statewide cases, three of the victims had traveled to the Philippines, which is experiencing a significant measles outbreak, and two had traveled to India, where the virus is endemic. The 15 victims range in age from 5 months to 44 years, and seven of them had deliberately not received the measles vaccine.
"These cases are children and young adults who were intentionally unvaccinated," said Chavez, who added that the deliberately unvaccinated included one 1-year-old baby and a handful of young people ranging up to 32 years of age. "We obviously are concerned by the numbers, and unless we can continue to ensure that people will be mindful to vaccinate before they travel, these numbers will continue to rise."
The highly contagious viral disease spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and symptoms typically begin with a fever that lasts for a couple of days, followed by a cough, runny nose, red, and watery eyes, said Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health. A rash will typically appear on the face, along the hairline, and behind the ears before spreading over the rest of the body, and infected people are usually contagious for about eight days: four days before their rash starts and four days after.
This time last year, only two measles cases had been reported, Chavez said. And while flu hospitalizations, outpatient visits and deaths have tapered significantly in the Bay Area, officials noted that the number of flu deaths confirmed and under investigation is still nearly 10 times as high as this time last year (32), and almost three times the number of deaths reported all of last season (106).
"Even a single death from the flu is a tragedy," said Chapman, who noted that the majority of victims continue to have underlying medical conditions present at the time of death. "The best way to prevent influenza is by getting vaccinated. The influenza season continues, and it's not too late for vaccination."
Officials urged residents of all ages to seek vaccinations for both the flu and the measles if they have not done so already and say both shots remain readily available statewide. Unvaccinated residents born after 1957 may be particularly vulnerable to the measles virus, Chavez added, as well as the same groups of people most susceptible to the flu: elderly residents, pregnant women and people with heart and lung conditions.
Health officials recommend that children get this first dose of MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella at 12 to 15 months of age, with a second dose usually administered before the child starts kindergarten. Unvaccinated residents traveling outside of North or South America should also receive the vaccination before they go and can be vaccinated as young as six months of age.
For more information about obtaining protection while traveling abroad, visit www.cdc.gov/travel/contentVaccinations.aspx. For more information about measles, flu and other vaccine-preventable diseases in California, visit www.getimmunizedca.org.
In all, the nine Bay Area counties and Santa Cruz County have reported 51 flu-related deaths this season as of Feb. 21, 2014:
Alameda County: 6
Contra Costa County: 6
Marin County: 2
Napa County: 1
San Francisco County: 3
San Mateo County: 6
Santa Clara County: 14
* Santa Cruz County: 3
Solano County: 3
Sonoma County: 7
* Santa Cruz County isn't included in the official designation of nine Bay Area counties.