County Working to Prevent Measles

Video by Suzanne Bartole

Doctors across the country are battling an old adversary: measles.

Outbreaks of this highly infectious disease have reached record levels since the disease was officially eliminated back in 2000.

San Diego County does not have any cases of the measles but Orange County recently confirmed their first one.

With the disease creeping closer, County health officials have a plan and a high-tech lab ready for the challenge.

What is measles?

Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person.

It spreads through the air by coughing or sneezing. Measles virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed.

If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected.

Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.

In San Diego County, there has not been a measles case since 2017, when two cases were reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that people born in the United States before 1957 are considered immune since the disease was widespread and vaccines were unavailable during their youth. Those born between 1957 and 1963 may need to be revaccinated because an earlier version of the vaccine was not as effective, and people may have had only one vaccination.

How to prevent measles

A child or adult who has received two doses of the MMR vaccine for protection against measles, mumps and rubella is about 97 percent protected.

Symptoms of measles include:

  • High Fever (over 101°F)
  • Runny nose
  • Red watery eyes
  • Cough
  • A rash that starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body

Measles can cause ear infections and diarrhea. It can also cause serious illness, such as pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling around the brain), and even death. Some groups, like 6-19-year-olds, seem to have fewer serious health problems due to measles. Other groups, such as pregnant women and people with weak immune systems due to Leukemia or HIV, are more likely to have serious health problems due to measles.

Call your doctor to get a measles vaccine, which may be covered by your insurance. You may also be vaccinated at a pharmacy or at a clinic offering no or low-cost vaccinations. If you don’t have insurance, call 2-1-1 or visit to find a nearby clinic.

For more information on measles, visit the Health and Human Services Agency, the California Department of Public Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact