As the number of measles cases continues to rise in Southern California following an outbreak at Disneyland last month, about two dozen unvaccinated students at one Orange County high school have been forced to stay home after a classmate contracted the disease.
In a message to students and parents at Huntington Beach High School on Thursday, Pamela Kahn, health and wellness coordinator at the Orange County Department of Education, said that students "who do not have any documented [measles, mumps and rubella] immunizations will be excluded from attending school until January 29."
The decision was based on a recommendation from Orange County public health officials, Kahn said.
On Friday, Huntington Beach High's principal, Rocky Murray, said a total of 24 students were being kept out of classes, including the one who contracted measles. That student last attended class on Jan. 8, according to the Department of Education.
There were 52 confirmed measles cases as of Friday; 46 of them in California.
As the disease has continued to spread, officials have been contacting people who might have been exposed. Under state law, health officials have the power to require those who have been exposed and who are unvaccinated to quarantine themselves.
Earlier this week a South Pasadena woman whose sister contracted measles at Disneyland told ABC 7 that county officials had threatened her with arrest if she refused to quarantine herself.
An L.A. County spokesman would not confirm or deny the woman’s account, but referred to the state health code, which says that refusing to comply with a health officer’s quarantine order is a misdemeanor.
Of the 46 cases statewide, officials have linked at least 36 to the outbreak at Disneyland and the Disney's California Adventure theme park between Dec. 17 and Dec. 20. Another six cases outside of California have also been linked to the Disney outbreak, including an unvaccinated two-year-old girl from Mexico.
Orange County has had the largest number of diagnosed cases, with 16 as of Friday. Health officials there say they’ve linked 10 of those to Disneyland. The other six were not Disney-related, leading officials to believe measles has become more widespread throughout the county.
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease that typically starts with a high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. It’s followed a few days later by a red rash that can spread throughout the body.
The virus was declared officially eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, but there have been occasional flare-ups. Health officials worry that an increase in the number of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children could lead to a resurgence of the measles.