HOLLADAY — For the first time in 14 years, the Salt Lake Valley Health Department has confirmed a local case of measles.
A teenager at Olympus High School has somehow come down with the disease, although the department is not releasing any identifiable information regarding the infected individual, for privacy reasons. They do believe the disease was contracted locally, however, as the teen has not traveled outside of the country.
While it is only a single confirmed case — and the first in the entire state in the past six years — officials are worried because of the disease's propensity for outbreaks.
"It is highly contagious," SLVHD public information officer Pamela Davenport said Thursday. "It could be the most contagious disease we have."
Other than an all-over rash, the disease can cause cold-like symptoms, such as a fever and runny nose, and is transmitted by coughing or sneezing and/or direct contact with secretions from an infected person.
Davenport said it can also cause more serious complications in those who have not received the proper vaccinations, as prevention is the only cure.
The Granite School District sent home approximately 30 students Thursday after they determined those students were either not immunized or did not have the appropriate records of immunization to prove otherwise, according to district spokesman Ben Horsley. Those students will be excluded from school activities until April 18, when the disease has run its course. Two pregnant staff members were also sent home as a precaution.
Classes will be streamed online to "ensure they won't fall behind in their schoolwork," Horsley said. He called the situation a "minor inconvenience" and said the surrounding community has been notified.
Anyone who has been vaccinated is not in danger of being infected. The student who contracted the illness had not been vaccinated, health department officials said.
"What's happened is that parents are not getting their children vaccinated," said Dr. Dagmar Vitek, SLVHD medical director. She said measles is "not a common infection anymore" and therefore, many doctors are not familiar with how to deal with it.
"Almost everybody not immunized will get it," Vitek said, adding that 30 percent of those who develop measles end up in the hospital with other complications.
The last time multiple Utahns were infected was in 1996 when more than 100 people were infected, most of them in Washington County. It was the largest nationwide outbreak reported that year. It began with a 17-year-old and spread rapidly through the area's high school and among other age groups.
Schools, day care centers, homes and other locations were the breeding grounds for the highly contagious measles transmission then, however, no one died or was hospitalized from the disease during that time in the state of Utah.
"We need an immunized population to prevent these outbreaks," said SLVHD director Gary Edwards. "Immunization is important in protecting a community."
Minnesota and Texas are two states dealing with multiple cases of measles at the moment and have declared their populations "under-immunized," Vitek said. She cannot predict additional cases in Utah as 76 percent of Utah's population has reportedly received the MMR vaccine and are safe from infection.
Local officials have informed those who have had close contact with the infected Utah teen and they have been encouraged to be vaccinated. That student is under a voluntary quarantine, Horsley said.
Babies and children should receive two doses of the antigen, available through doctors and local health departments. And according to the health department, adults born after 1957, who may not have been immunized or received the full two doses, should contact their doctor to see if they need the vaccine.
Claims of a relation of autism and the MMR vaccine surfaced in 1995 but have since been refuted, according to Dr. Audrey Stevenson, department director of family health services.
She said people born prior to 1957 have developed a natural immunity to measles.
While measles is not widespread in the U.S., sporadic cases can occur when unvaccinated people visit other countries where measles is more prevalent, such as areas of Africa, Europe and Asia. Vitek said it is not likely that the health department will discover how this case was contracted but she said there is "obviously another case out there."