HOLLADAY — The local health department has contacted up to 150 people who may have been in contact with a teenager who has come down with Salt Lake County's first confirmed case of measles in 14 years. They have also discovered two new probable cases of the disease in the valley.

"The number keeps rising," said Salt Lake Valley Health Department spokeswoman Pamela Davenport. She said both new cases are believed to have a recent history of travel outside the U.S. and are linked to the first case.

Epidemiologists have been working long hours to uncover the web of associations with the one infected individual and on Thursday, turned 32 students and two staff members away from Olympus High School. They won't be able to return to school until April 18, when it is expected the disease will have run its course. On Friday, it was confirmed that 22 of those students had not received a vaccine to protect against measles.

Davenport said that following media reports of the confirmed measles case, the health department received a handful of phone calls that turned into leads for other cases of measles in the community. She said they may have identified the initial case.

It is estimated that $150,000 is spent in public health time and resources for just the one case of the highly contagious infectious disease, she said. The outbreak in 1996, involving 107 cases, cost the state approximately $600,000.

“We want to continue to urge residents to check their own and their children’s vaccination history to ensure they are protected from this serious and potentially deadly disease," Davenport said. She stressed the importance of voluntary quarantine for individuals exposed to the virus, specifically those already contacted by the health department, meaning they should stay at home and not attend work, church, school or other recreational activities.

“It is irresponsible to be out in the community when you know you may be infectious,” said SLVHD executive director Gary Edwards.

SLVHD's Family Health Services Director Dr. Audrey Stevenson said the general public is not at risk unless individuals have only had one dose of the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps and rubella), or were born after 1957 and have not been vaccinated at all.

"Individuals born prior to 1957 have natural immunity," she said. "They were exposed to it in the community." Since then, measles has not been common enough in the U.S. to generate natural immunity, therefore necessitating the vaccination.

Women in Utah who have had a baby have likely been tested for rubella titer in their blood to detect a propensity for birth defects from the virus, Stevenson said. If it is nonexistent, those women receive a dose of MMR.

"There are probably few people within our community who haven't been adequately immunized, unless they've deliberately selected or chosen to not be vaccinated," she said, adding that there hasn't been a single case of measles in Salt Lake County in 14 years, which has dramatically decreased the chance of exposure to the disease.

Individuals in their early- to mid-50s are likely covered. However, Stevenson said, "If in doubt, they should be vaccinated."

A larger than usual number of students were absent from Olympus on Friday. And Davenport said health departments are experiencing an influx of people looking to be vaccinated following the outbreak.

"It was anticipated," said Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley. "It's just parents exercising their rights."

Of the 515 students absent from school, 368 were not excused. It was a much higher number than a typical absentee record. Twenty-five staff and teachers were also not at school Friday because they couldn't present their own immunization records, which is required by the health department after a local infectious disease case is confirmed.

9 comments on this story

Since a vaccination was licensed in 1963, the number of measles cases has been sporadic throughout the United States, with only 34 cases reported nationwide by 2004. However, the Minnesota-based Immunization Action Coalition reports that "new cases continue to be reported, primarily in populations that have refused vaccination for religious or personal belief reasons."

In Utah, immunization records are required upon registration for public and private school participation and copies are kept on-hand with student records, as some vaccines require additional doses as students progress through grade 12.

Exemptions to the rule can be obtained if parents declare medical, religious or otherwise personal reasons objecting vaccinations, although the state health department reports an average 97 percent immunization rate in the state, which is the same among the student population at Olympus High.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com