Sonoma County health officials sound alarm on measles (w/video)

People who are unvaccinated need to know that the epidemiology of vaccine-preventable diseases and the risk of vaccine preventable diseases is changing — it's going up," said Karen Holbrook, the county's interim public health officer.

"Even though we don't have any cases in Sonoma County, right now I'm concerned," she said.

In a teleconference with reporters Friday, Kathleen Harriman of the California Department of Public Health said that fewer than 3 percent of kids statewide have not been vaccinated by the time they get to kindergarten. In these cases, the parents have received personal belief exemptions.

Holbrook said in Sonoma County, 6.3 percent of parents request such an exemption. But in the west county, nonvaccination rates are much higher, she said.

In Sebastopol Union and Twin Hills school districts, 40 percent or more of parents request personal belief exemptions, Holbrook said. A new law that took effect Jan. 1 now requires parents to obtain a signed statement from a heath care professional that shows they received medical information about the benefits and risks of vaccines.

"We look forward to the new law that will be in place for the next school year," said Linda Irving, superintendent of Twin Hills. "It will give parents the opportunity to discuss vaccinations more in-depth with regard to personal belief exemptions."

There have been no measles-related deaths, state health officials said Friday. The actual number of measles cases may be higher because there is a lag between the time counties document cases and the time the state reports them.

During the Friday teleconference, state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez said that a significant number of the 15 measles cases involved people who traveled — or were exposed to those who traveled — to other countries with high rates of measles infections.

Three traveled to the Philippines, two to India and two others were exposed to international travelers, Chavez said. He urged Californians who are traveling outside of North and South America to "make sure you're the fully vaccinated." Places such as the Philippines, India and some countries in Europe are especially troublesome, he said.

Health officials said the current outbreak of measles in the Philippines may have been exacerbated by the devastating typhoon that hit the region in November.

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