Utah measles case traced to European travel

Published: Wednesday, April 13 2011 11:54 p.m. MDT

HOLLADAY — The five locally confirmed cases of measles likely originated with a Utah family who recently vacationed in Poland to pick up their missionary daughter.

Health department epidemiologists traced the disease back to an initial case of an Evergreen Junior High School student who has since been allowed to return to school because he is no longer contagious. That student posted on his Facebook page on April 5 that he had recently traveled to Poland. His sister also recently returned from the Poland Warsaw Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Another sister, who attends Olympus High School, also posted online about being stuck at home, specifically missing calculus class, "just because I never got immunized … this is lame sauce," she wrote.

She also stated that her family could be fined for going back to school without clearance from the health department. The Utah Department of Health confirmed that is a possibility.

"Voluntary compliance is obviously the best way to go," said UDOH spokesman Tom Hudachko. He said any violation of a lawful order of the health department, which operates under the state health code and carries a potential for a $10,000 fine.

All five of the confirmed measles cases in Salt Lake County were cleared to return to school, as "they are past the infectious period," said Salt Lake Valley Health Department spokesman Nicholas Rupp.

The department has only confirmed those five cases and has announced one additional probable case of the measles since the announcement of the local outbreak. If no additional cases are confirmed, the virus will again be dormant in the area.

However, Davis County Health Department officials are investigating three "rash illnesses" but have not confirmed them to be measles, specifically, said spokesman Bob Ballew. He said the cases, which range in age from infant to adult, have yet to meet a measles case definition but that the department is "watching them closely."

More than a couple dozen other students remain excluded from classes at four Granite School District schools because they either had not been immunized or could not produce records of having the vaccine, said district spokesman Ben Horsley. Unvaccinated students exposed to the virus could still come down with it.

"They were sent home for their own safety," Horsley said, adding that the district acted under the direction of the health department, which asked the excluded students to remain on voluntary quarantine and stay inside their homes.

Teachers with excluded students have been asked to post class materials online and the small percentage of students missing class has been communicating individually with teachers to complete assignments.

With spring break approaching next week, Horsley said "most of them are really only missing five days of class." He said they will likely be behind their classmates when they return, but teachers "will not hold it against them."

The World Health Organization recently reported continuous measles outbreaks throughout Europe, with as many as seven confirmed cases within Poland. During the last few months of 2010, the country saw at least 150 clinically confirmed cases, according to WHO. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently noted online that travelers to Europe "should be aware that measles is endemic in several countries of that region, which was the source of 39 percent of U.S. measles imports during 2005 and 2008."

Rupp said Wednesday that at least one of the confirmed cases had been due to international travel — Europe specifically, but he could not confirm that it was Poland. So far, he said families contacted by the department have been compliant to the voluntary quarantine currently in place.

While measles has essentially been eliminated in the U.S., the CDC reports that importations due to international travel poses a threat to unvaccinated Americans, particularly children who have not been exposed to diseases no longer common within the U.S.

Utah schools require proof of vaccination upon registration, however parents can ask for an exemption to the rule, based on personal or religious opinions. None of the students with confirmed cases of the measles had received vaccinations to protect them from the infection.

Upon the April 7 confirmation of the first case in Salt Lake County, the SLVHD issued a letter to all parents, teachers and students in the Granite School District, saying anyone without two doses of the MMR vaccine needed to either get the shot or stay home until the disease runs its course. That date was originally April 18, but was moved back another week, to April 25, because of newly identified cases.

If symptoms present themselves, including fever, runny nose, and a rash, those individuals need to "stay home and in isolation (with no outside visitors)," the letter states.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

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