Measles alert issued for California train riders

2:12 PM, Feb 14, 2014   |    comments
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Health officials are warning thousands of San Francisco area commuters that they may have been exposed to measles by an infected college student who rode BART trains for several days.

The student from the University of California, Berkeley, was infected while on a trip to Asia and rode the trains from Feb. 4 to Feb. 7, while he was contagious, health officials said at a press briefing late Thursday, according to KTVU in Oakland.

Because symptoms take seven to 10 days to show up, anyone else who got infected as a result could just be starting to get sick, the officials say.

"It is very important for them to recognize the symptoms of fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes and perhaps a rash," and to contact health care providers immediately, says Erika Janssen, a communicable disease officer for Contra Costa County.

The infected student thought he had a cold last week and was diagnosed with measles only after he broke out in a rash, the officials say. Before that, he rode the train from El Cerrito del Norte to downtown Berkeley, morning and night.

Health officials say the measles virus can linger in the air for an hour or two. Most people who get infected are unvaccinated. Babies, children, the elderly and people with suppressed immune systems are most at risk for complications. About 1 in 20 children who get measles get pneumonia and one or two in 1,000 die, according the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The news prompted discussion on Bay area email lists for parents but the general consensus seemed to be the vaccinated had nothing to fear.

Mary Mottola of San Francisco has two young children but says she is not worried for them or for herself because the risk of transmission is so low. "Was he licking everything on the BART trains?" she asked. "I'm not worried at all, nor has anyone I know mentioned it and I rode BART yesterday. Isn't this why we get vaccinated?"

Amabelle Sze, 37, said because her family all got vaccinated "I'm not worried at all." The San Franciscan added, "that being said, if I'd chosen not to vaccinate my daughter, I'd be terrified."

While home-grown, ongoing outbreaks of measles were eliminated in the USA in 2000, the nation had 189 cases in 2013 as a result of infections brought in from other countries, CDC says. Almost all of those cases occurred in unvaccinated people, the agency says.

The outbreaks typically start with a case from abroad, then spread to pockets of people who are unvaccinated "because of philosophical of religious beliefs," CDC said in a recent report.

The largest recent outbreak occurred when a teen who traveled to the United Kingdom returned to New York City and infected 58 members of an Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn in early 2013, CDC reported.

UC Berkeley officials say they are bringing 300 doses of measles vaccine to campus for students who have not been vaccinated. Officials also are contacting about 100 people who have had close contact with the student.

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