MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The number of confirmed cases of measles in this country has risen to 88 - most of them in California. The outbreak has been traced to exposure at Disneyland in Orange County, which has the greatest number of measles cases - 23. Dr. Eric Handler is the public health officer for Orange County.
ERIC HANDLER: I can tell you that we have six children that were confirmed measles, five of which were unimmunized. And the majority of the adults, which were 17, don't have immunization records or do not recall.
BLOCK: Why don't you describe for us just how easily measles is spread and the health risks that it can pose for people who do get it?
HANDLER: Certainly. It's spread through the air. If just somebody sneezes, for example, or coughs, and so it becomes droplets that people are exposed to. And individuals are infectious four days before they come down with symptoms, which are fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes. And it's highly contagious, and if you're in a room where somebody does have the disease and you're not protected, there's a 90 percent chance that you're going to come down with that disease.
BLOCK: Ninety percent.
HANDLER: Yes. And this disease has complications. Approximately 30 percent of people will develop either pneumonia or encephalitis or an ear infection. In addition, if you're 5 years of age or younger, there's a 30 percent chance that you're going to be hospitalized.
BLOCK: I was looking at a letter that you sent to parents in Orange County, Dr. Handler, saying that their children may be prevented from going to school or day care if they're not vaccinated and there's a measles case in that school. Have you had to do that? Have you had to order kids out of school?
HANDLER: Well, first of all, let me explain that the beginning of the school year a couple years ago, we sent out a letter through the schools to parents saying that if there is an event just like this and you do not have evidence of being protected, you will be excluded from school for 21 days. So this year, again, on January 14 I sent a letter to the Huntington Beach High School parents, where we had a case, and said that if you do not have evidence of being protected, that your child will be excluded from the high school. And approximately 24 students have been excluded.
BLOCK: You know, it's interesting to think that measles had been eradicated in this country. There would be, I would think, a generation of young doctors who haven't seen measles before, don't know what to look for, might not be trained, really, in the disease. What do you do about that?
HANDLER: You're right. The younger physicians have not seen measles. So we have multiple educational campaigns going on to say, look, we know you haven't seen these cases and here are the things that you need to be aware of in case somebody comes into your office or calls you. I trained at LA County USC almost 30 years ago and it was pretty prevalent to see measles cases. This is not the case now.
BLOCK: It must be strange for you to see those cases coming back after all that time.
HANDLER: It's disheartening to say the least. Interestingly, in Orange County last year we had an outbreak where we had 22 cases of measles. And now we're seeing another outbreak occurring now.
BLOCK: Well, Dr. Handler, thanks so much for talking with us today.
HANDLER: It's my pleasure. Thank you very much.
BLOCK: That's Dr. Eric Handler. He's the public health officer for Orange County, Calif. He spoke with us from Santa Ana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.