First, mumps was threatening to put the NHL on ice. Now another childhood disease, measles, is making a comeback, as a result of exposure that occurred in Disneyland, of all places. And the repercussions are being felt all the way through the sports community.
An Arizona news station reported 102 confirmed cases of measles. The California Department of Public Health said most of the infections were in California, with other cases in Arizona, Utah, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Nebraska and Mexico.
Yes, Arizona. You know, where the Super Bowl was just held.
Arizona health officials have been monitoring 1,000 potentially infected people in the state. Among those were individuals who had been present in a hospital when a measles patient was treated. And the influx of visitors before, during and after the Super Bowl had officials scrambling to get the word out.
“This is a critical point in this outbreak,” said Arizona Department of Health Services’ Director Will Humble. “If the public health system and medical community are able to identify every single susceptible case and get them into isolation, we have a chance of stopping this outbreak here."
One troublesome factor in measles is the window of exposure; the incubation period for the disease ranges from seven to 21 days, according to the health department. That leaves plenty of time for an unsuspecting patient to infect plenty of other people.
So far, no recent measles cases have been traced to any children or adults who took part in a travel sports event, but there is no doubt the situation would be one in which the disease could spread. In May of 2013, participants in a youth baseball game in North Carolina were warned that a player had been diagnosed with ‘measles-like symptoms’ and that similar symptoms should be brought to the attention of a pediatrician.
It wouldn't be the first time a contagious disease had been linked to the travel and hospitality industry, either; in January, several cases of the norovirus were confirmed in individuals who had been at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.
For the most part, measles spreads among those who have not been vaccinated against the virus. In the case of the patients who had been at Disneyland in December, 82% of those infected had not been vaccinated, either because they were too young or because they elected not to be, officials said. In addition, Disneyland enjoys many international visitors and in some cases, those visitors’ home countries do not require vaccination for measles.
In addition, some states in the U.S. allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children. For example, Colorado is one of 18 states that allow parents and students to opt out of getting required vaccines if they submit a statement of exemption based on religious or personal beliefs.
Only time will tell whether the measles will continue to spread. As children and adults get closer to spring break time – a prime time for travel – it’s likely there will be increasing concern, particularly in cases where youth travel teams will meet for tournaments located near theme parks.
The CDC website includes consumer-friendly information on the measles vaccine. Expect tournament directors and youth sports organizations to start linking to it.