The recent measles outbreak has prompted San Diego County health officials to recommend that children receive their first measles vaccine at 12 months rather than 15 months.
The move comes at a time when there have been 487 suspected or confirmed cases of the disease, with 10% of those being children from 12 to 14 months old.
"We're hoping to prevent the disease at this younger age," said Dr. Donald G. Ramras, deputy director of public health.
By urging that children be immunized younger, county health officials are also hoping to prevent the highly communicable viral disease from spreading.
Ramras said it is so contagious that an infected child "can be in a room coughing and sneezing," and a child entering the room an hour later can catch it.
Vaccination against the disease is usually recommended at 15 months and before entering school.
A second dose is recommended because some people do not develop the antibodies needed to fight the disease after the first shot.
Before starting school, children usually receive a vaccine against measles, mumps and German measles.
Because the county has enough vaccine to give only the first shot, Ramras said county centers will not be able provide the second shot to children before they enter school.
Latino communities throughout the county appear to be the hardest hit by the disease, Ramras said. Of 399 cases where ethnicity was known, 184 or 46% where Latino.
Ramras said the county is applying for $130,000 in state funds that will permit more county workers to conduct outreach in those communities. The money will help keep centers open more hours to give more people the vaccine.
Measles causes high fevers and a severe rash. It is spread by contact with the respiratory secretions.
For this reason, health officials are recommending that people who have not had the disease or who have not been immunized not to accompany friends or family members to hospital emergency rooms, doctor's offices or clinics.
Adults born after 1957 are also urged to get a shot, Ross said, because they may have been given a vaccine later found to be ineffective.
Hospitalization can occur when a person becomes severly hydrated because of the fevers, Sandy Ross, immunization project coordinator, said. Pneumonia can also develop. If the disease infects the brain tissue it can cause measles encephalitis, which can lead to death, Ross said.
The disease does not cause deformities in fetuses, but it can cause miscarriages.
Measles (rubeola) should not be confused with German measles (rubella), which can cause fetal deformities if a woman contracts it during the first trimester or her pregnancy, Ross said.