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KPCC's Rebecca Plevin answers your measles questions

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State health officials say seven Californians and two people in Utah have confirmed cases of measles likely contracted on a trip to Disney theme parks in California in December.
David McNew/Getty Images
State health officials say seven Californians and two people in Utah have confirmed cases of measles likely contracted on a trip to Disney theme parks in California in December.

Last week, we asked our listeners to submit some of the questions they had about measles. We asked KPCC health reporter Rebecca Plevin for help.

We've been following the measles outbreak that started at the Disney theme parks last month, and the number of cases keep ticking up.

Last week, we solicited audience questions about the measles. This week, KPCC's health reporter and resident measles expert Rebecca Plevin answers some of them.

Should you avoid your physician's office if you have a child who's too young to be vaccinated?

It is true that measles is extremely contagious. Experts say that measles can linger in the air for an hour or two after an infectious person has left the room. Dr. Eric Handler, who's the Orange County public health officer, says it's fine to take your kids to the doctor because agencies have been telling people that if they thing they or their child has measles. Individuals should call the doctor first and let them them know that they will be coming. Then, most primary care doctors should have protocols in place to separate the people who are suspected cases of measles from the general population.

Should you avoid flying or going to crowded places if you have a baby?

In this case Dr. Handler says that measles is circulating around Orange County, circulating around a lot of Southern California communities right now so anywhere that's enclosed and crowded is a measles risk for infants who are too young to be vaccinated and other people who are unvaccinated. 

What about if your child just has one of their MMR shots. Should they stay away from Disneyland if they haven't had their second shot?

Last week, the state epidemiologist said anyone who's unvaccinated should avoid Disneyland and other crowded places. If you're vaccinated, you should be fine. But with one dose of the MMR shot, the vaccine is considered to be about 95 percent effective. And a clarification about the shots: Most kids get their first dose at 12 to 15 months. A child can get the second dose four weeks after that, but it's usually given before the youngster starts kindergarten, sometime between ages 4 and 6.

What's the difference in symptoms and severity experienced by vaccinated children versus unvaccinated children who come down with the measles?

The classic symptoms of the measles are fever, runny nose, cough and red eyes. A few days later, people develop a rash that starts at the head and travels downward. The disease can become severe.

Among kids under age 5, 30 percent will be hospitalized. About one child out of every 1,000 who gets measles will develop encephalitis, or swelling of the brain. And for every 1,000 kids who get it, one or two will die. But among kids and adults who are vaccinated? Dr. Handler told me their symptoms are milder, and they're not as infectious. He says people who were vaccinated, and contracted measles, are not passing the disease onto others.

If you're vaccinated, can you carry the virus on your clothes or hair to other those who are not vaccinated?

Dr. Handler says, yes, that's possible, but measles is most infectious when it's airborne. So unvaccinated people are more likely to contract the disease from people who are already infectious.

Check out Rebecca's measles FAQ for additional information and where to get vaccinated.

Do you have questions we haven't answered? Let us know in the comments, on our Facebook page or on Twitter (@KPCC or @TakeTwo).

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