Disneyland measles exposure taints trips to 'happiest place on earth'

A Disneyland visitor with measles left tens of thousands of theme park guests at heightened risk of exposure to a disease that has infected 1,250 Americans since January, the most in almost 100 years.

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The visitor stayed at the Anaheim, Calif., tourist spot, southeast of Los Angeles, from 9:15 a.m. to about 8:35 a.m. on Oct. 16 and visited a Sepulveda Boulevard Starbucks earlier the same morning, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Measles, a once-deadly disease eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, has regained a foothold as infected visitors from other countries interact with Americans who have shunned vaccination because of worries about the health effects.

“For those who are not protected, measles is a highly contagious and potentially severe disease that initially causes fever, cough, red, watery eyes, and, finally, a rash,” said county health officer Dr. Muntu Davis. “Measles is spread by air and by direct contact even before you know you have it."

People can protect themselves with the MMR vaccine, which fights mumps and rubella as well as measles, he said.

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Anyone exposed to measles is at risk of developing the disease for up to three weeks. Those who think they may have come into contact with measles should review immunization and medical records to determine whether they have been vaccinated and monitor themselves for fever or an unexplained rash.

There have been 19 measles cases among Los Angeles County residents this year, in addition to 11 cases involving people from other areas who traveled through the county. Most of the people who contracted the disease hadn't received vaccinations or weren't sure if they had.

A significant factor in this year's measles cases has been misinformation about the safety of the vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned. Measles cases have climbed 30 percent globally, according to the World Health Organization, and reluctance to obtain vaccines is threatening to reverse progress toward wiping out preventable diseases.

Currently, vaccines prevent as many as 3 million disease-related deaths a year, and another 1.5 million might be avoided if people took advantage of them, the agency said.

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Disneyland and adjacent Disney California Adventure Park are major tourist destinations which draw tens of thousands of visitors a day. Just a few months ago, a New Zealand teenager infected with measles visited Disneyland and other Southern California tourist spots.

Prior to that, a 2015 measles outbreak involving Disneyland sickened 147 people and spread across the U.S. and into Canada.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.