A campus-wide email warning of a potential measles outbreak was sent to the PLNU student body Monday. While no student cases have been reported, the health alert followed a large outbreak of more than 100 people across Southern California that originated at Disneyland in December.
The email sent by Caye Smith, vice president for student development, outlined the university’s response in the case of an outbreak, relying heavily on quarantining infected persons and verifying the immunity of all exposed persons.
“In the information we sent out, we tried to provide students with enough information so that if they had symptoms which mirror early measles symptoms, they knew to call the Wellness Center so we could actually do an in-room evaluation,” said Smith. “So, if we were to then diagnose a student with measles, we could contact parents or guardians and help that student go home.”
This quarantine-centered strategy exists in large part because of how extremely contagious measles is. According to Dr. Dawne Page, biology professor and immunologist, all it takes is being in the same room as a person with the disease.
“Measles is one of those viruses that is really, really infectious,” Page said. “And that is the big problem with this virus; until you break out with your rash, you can be infectious and not know it.”
Vaccination for the virus, however, is 99 percent effective in preventing the spread of the virus, according to Kimberly Bogan, associate dean of student success and wellness.
And the university’s policy requires that all undergraduate students receive a variety of vaccines—including the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)—prior to attending the school. Students are, however, allowed to waive this requirement for reasons of health or personal belief.
“There are some people who actually can’t be vaccinated for health reasons,” Page said. “Often someone can be born with an immunodeficiency so their immune system isn’t properly functioning to begin with.”
These individuals that cannot—and those that choose not to—get immunized are at a huge risk in outbreak scenarios.
“It would also significantly impact other students who are unvaccinated,” said Smith. “At that point, we would very likely consult with the public health department and we would likely ask all unvaccinated students to go home until we were past that period of recommended quarantine.”
Smith said those who aren’t vaccinated should at least be informed so that they can know what to prepare for in the event of an outbreak.
“If there are students that are unvaccinated, and they are over the age of 18, they can make that decision legally for themselves,” said Smith. “So I would ask the unvaccinated students to look at the literature, come in and talk to one of our nurse practitioners or consulting physicians and to think carefully about that issue.”