(Updates with out-of-state cases linked to Disney; new statement from health department)
By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Disneyland sought on Thursday to reassure visitors that the theme park was safe amid a measles outbreak that began there in December and prompted state health officials to urge parents not to bring their unvaccinated children.
The California Department of Public Health reported 59 confirmed measles cases among state residents since the end of December, most linked to an initial exposure at Disneyland or the adjacent Disney California Adventure Park.
Nine more cases linked to the two Disney parks were reported out of state - one in Mexico, three in Utah, two in Washington state and one each in Oregon, Colorado and Arizona.
The outbreak is believed to have begun when an infected person visited the Anaheim resort, likely from out of the country, from Dec. 15 to Dec. 20.
Among those infected are at least five Walt Disney Co employees and a student at Huntington Beach High School, some 15 miles (24 km) from the park, which earlier this week ordered its unvaccinated students to stay home until Jan. 29.
On Wednesday Dr. Gil Chavez, deputy director of the state health department, told reporters that anyone immunized for measles should have no concern about visiting the theme parks.
“But if you are unvaccinated, I would worry about it,” Chavez said. “And if you have a minor that cannot be vaccinated - under the age of 12 months, I would recommend that those children are not taken to places like Disneyland today.”
In an updated statement on Thursday, Chavez said his words of caution extended to “any place where large numbers of people congregate,” including airports and shopping malls.
Asked about Chavez’ remarks, Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown said, “We agree with what Dr. Chavez said that it is absolutely safe to visit Disneyland if you have been immunized.” She added that Disneyland attendance had been unaffected by the outbreak.
Dr. Pamela Hymel, chief medical officer for Walt Disney Parks and resorts, has said that Disney was offering its cast members vaccinations and measles tests.
“Realistically, when you think about Disneyland, you’ll have 30,000 to 40,000 people visiting on any given day. It’s like a small city. And just like a small city it has to deal with this kind of thing,” said Jim Hill, writer of a popular blog about the company.
Measles typically begins with fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes, followed by red rash that often starts on the face and spreads downward. The sometimes deadly viral disease can spread very swiftly among unvaccinated children.
There is no specific treatment for measles and most people recover within a few weeks. But in poor and malnourished children and people with reduced immunity, measles can cause serious complications including blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea, ear infection and pneumonia. (Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Grant McCool and Eric Walsh)