(Adds 1,000 contacts in Arizona)
By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES, Jan 28 (Reuters) – A California high school barred dozens of non-vaccinated students from school on Wednesday over concern that a classmate may have contracted measles in a rare outbreak of the highly contagious disease that began at a Disneyland resort last month.
The order, which affects 66 students at Palm Desert High School near the resort community of Palm Springs, marks at least the second time a California school has prohibited non-vaccinated students from classes since the outbreak began.
“We are simply responding, being very careful and making sure we’re taking the best care of students and staff,” said Mary Perry, a spokeswoman for the Desert Sands Unified School District, which overseas Palm Desert High. She said the non-vaccinated students have been ordered to stay home until Feb. 9.
In nearby Arizona, officials with the Department of Health Services on Wednesday said they had identified 1,000 people, including more than 200 children, who had contact with the seven individuals in the state with confirmed cases. The department said 213 children were exposed while at local health facilities.
Officials in the state’s Maricopa County asked non-vaccinated students who were potentially exposed to the disease to stay home.
More than 90 people have been diagnosed with measles in California and nearby states since an infected person, likely from out of the country, visited the Disneyland resort in Anaheim between Dec. 15 and Dec. 20.
Earlier this month, a school in the Los Angeles suburb of Huntington Beach ordered non-vaccinated children to stay home until this Thursday.
Homegrown measles, whose symptoms include rash and fever, was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000. The outbreak has raised questions about whether the previous absence of the debilitating disease led some parents to be more reluctant to vaccinate their children than in decades past.
The California health department has said unvaccinated individuals have been a factor in the outbreak, although some of the infected patients had been inoculated.
The concern has been especially high in schools, which require students to prove they have been vaccinated to enroll although parents have been able to opt out due to personal beliefs or medical concerns.
In California, about 2.7 percent of students received personal belief exemptions, according to state figures.
A California Department of Public Health spokesman said late on Wednesday he did not have any information on whether the illness had spread within schools.
Figures from the agency said school age children account for less than 20 percent of the confirmed cases in California.
At Santa Monica High School near Los Angeles, a baseball coach contracted measles, a school district spokeswoman said this week, but students were not believed to be at risk.
On Wednesday, school officials at a San Francisco Bay area district publicly responded to a call from the father of a 6-year-old boy with weakened immunity to close the door to students at his child’s school if their families opted out of vaccinations because of personal beliefs.
Steve Herzog, superintendent of the Reed Union School District where the boy attends school at Reed Elementary, said unless someone in the local Marin County contracts measles, he cannot bar entry to children without vaccinations.
Carl Krawitt of Corte Madera said he fears his immune compromised child, Rhett, would badly suffer from a measles infection, and the boy has not been vaccinated because he is still regaining strength from his battle with leukemia, which is in remission.
“It’s a risk that shouldn’t even be there, and that’s what’s so emotional for me. This was a disease that was gone,” Krawitt said. (Additional reporting by David Schwartz and Curtis Skinner; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Nick Macfie)
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