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Fearing an outbreak of measles, health officials this weekend ordered emergency vaccinations for Harvard Summer School students living in the Radcliffe Quad.
Doctors at the University Health Services (UHS) took action after discovering that one student complaining of a rash Friday afternoon may have been suffering "atypical measles," said Dr. Charles Weingarten, chief of medicine at UHS. Although there was only a small chance that the student actually did have the measles, Weingarten said UHS took precautionary measures because the disease is highly contagious.
"We consulted with the state health department," Weingarten said. "They felt it would be prudent to immunize the likely contacts." Most of the Quad students were inoculated Saturday morning, but a few delayed taking their shots until Sunday.
Hitesh Hathi, the summer school's assistant dean for Cabot House, said Weingarten informed him of the situation on Friday, and that he arranged for students to be inoculated at UHS Saturday morning. He said that between 8:30 a.m. and noon, almost 450 of the approximately 500 students living in Cabot and North Houses were vaccinated--at the rate of approximately 100 vaccinations per hour.
Hathi said the student suspected of having measles will probably find out sometime today whether she is actually infected. "Even if it turns out not to be measles, it still is an important vaccination to have," Hathi said.
"The issue was more of a problem because it was the summer school and because we don't have as much information about the summer students," Weingarten said. "One has to assume the worst-case scenario."
The incubation period for measles is between eight and 12 days, Weingarten said, adding that the disease becomes infectious about 10 days after exposure--usually two days before any symptoms appear and as many as four days before the characteristic measles rash develops.
Weingarten said that since those with insufficient resistance will likely develop the disease if they are not inoculated within 72 hours of their initial exposure, speedy action is crucial.
In addition, Weingarten said many of those vaccinated in the '60s and early '70s may not be resistant to the disease, either because the immunizing agent was not of good quality or more likely because the students were too young when immunized. As a result, he cautioned that everyone born before1957 who has never had measles and who has notbeen vaccinated since 1980 should be immunizedagain.
But Weingarten did advise that pregnant womenand people with weakened immune systems should notrisk receiving the vaccine, even though allergicreactions are rare
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