Trouble in Disneyland

A measles outbreak has spread from the California theme park

January 20, 2015

Visitors walk towards the Magic Castle at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California.

People from all over the world visit Disneyland to have fun, not to get sick. But last week, an outbreak of measles spread from the Southern California theme park. As of Monday, January 19, at least 52 people have contracted the highly contagious respiratory illness.

Airborne illnesses like measles spread easily in crowded places like amusement parks.

Airborne illnesses like measles spread easily in crowded places like amusement parks.

A Rise in Numbers

The majority of the reported cases of measles are from people who visited the park last month. According to the California Department of Public Health, the outbreak exposure period, or the time in which people were exposed to the illness, at Disneyland occurred from December 17-20. All cases of measles from this exposure should have occurred by January 10, 2015.

Other cases are a result of exposure to infected park visitors. Officials believe the cause of the outbreak is likely someone who caught measles abroad and visited Disneyland, but this has yet to be confirmed. However, in 2014, California had its highest measles infection rate in nearly two decades. There were 66 cases of measles reported in the state—23 of them in Orange County, where Disneyland is located.

Measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But a new surge of the illness has hit the country over the past decade. The U.S. recorded a total of 610 cases in 2014. No new cases have been identified in guests who visited Disneyland after December 20.

Stopping the Sickness

Measles spreads very easily. It can be contracted from coughing and sneezing. Crowded areas like theme parks are especially susceptible to its spread.

The illness starts with a fever and develops into symptoms including a cough, runny nose, red eyes and a blotchy rash. About three out of ten people infected with measles will develop another health complication, including an ear infection or pneumonia.

According to CDC, the best way to prevent measles is to get the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. An unvaccinated person is 35 times more likely to catch measles than someone who received a vaccination. 

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