Community at risk after UC Berkeley student with measles attends class, rides BART

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An unknown number of Bay Area residents were likely exposed to the highly contagious measles virus after a UC Berkeley student diagnosed with the disease attended classes and commuted on BART last week, local health officials said.

While officials urged community members to watch for symptoms of the disease, most people receive an inoculation against measles as children and are not at risk of contracting the virus.

The unidentified student, who is in his or her 20s, lives in Contra Costa County and commuted on BART from the El Cerrito del Norte station to the Downtown Berkeley station between Feb. 4 and 7 during the morning commute and late evening hours, according to Erika Jenssen, the communicable disease programs chief for Contra Costa County. She said the student was not vaccinated against the disease.

Because the virus can remain in the air for up to two hours and BART cars travel across most of the Bay Area, anyone who rode in the affected individual’s BART car could have been exposed to the disease, Jenssen said. BART provides about 400,000 rides on a normal weekday.

Measles is a serious disease — with symptoms including high fever, runny nose, coughing and watery, red eyes — that can appear one to three weeks after exposure to the virus. Patients can confuse the symptoms with a cold at first, but two to three days after a fever, a rash can spread from the head and face across the body.

“The good news about measles is that the measles vaccine is extremely effective,” said Janet Berreman, health officer for the city of Berkeley.

Most people receive two doses of the vaccine and subsequently have immunity, Berreman said. Officials stressed that if someone believes he or she has the disease, that person should contact a health provider immediately.

Brad Buchman, medical director of University Health Services, said the campus is investigating the classes the student is in, where they take place and who his or her classmates and instructors are. The campus will contact those people individually.

The campus is in contact with the state and will acquire about 300 doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to administer to inadequately vaccinated individuals, Buchman said.

Although the hepatitis B vaccine is required for most entering UC Berkeley students, the measles vaccine is one of a handful of recommended, but not required, childhood vaccines for students.

This is the second measles case in Contra Costa County in the past five years, according to Jenssen.

“Many providers have not seen measles before,” Jenssen said. “It is really important that health-care providers are alert to the signs and symptoms of measles.”

Mitchell Handler covers academics and administration. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @mitchellhandler.