Three-year-old Uriah Krueger had been cranky and unusually off, but not so bad that his mom, Kellie, felt the need to cancel a business trip.
“I had actually left to go out of town on a trip for work and left him with (his) dad and said ‘Oh, Dad, you'll be fine. You know, don't worry about this. Mommy does this all the time,” Kellie Krueger told NBC News.
“It just kind of kept getting worse. He would text me when I was on the trip and said, ‘This doesn't seem to be getting better’, and I kept just being like, ‘Ah, well yeah, Dad, you've never really done this before.’ You know, not very sympathetic.”
"He'd been saying 'ow ow ow' all night long."
But it turned out Uriah is one of at least 91 Californians infected with measles in an outbreak originally linked to Disneyland. California health officials reported Friday the number of confirmed cases increased by 12 since Wednesday. Uriah's parents, Andrew and Kellie Krueger, say the experience left them with little nostalgia for the pre-vaccination days, when measles was a routine childhood illness.
Kellie’s mother came over to help care for the sick youngster while Andrew went to his job at a Trader Joe’s. When he came home, though, Andrew knew something was really wrong. No one suspected measles because Uriah had been vaccinated as a baby.
“I went to go check on him and he had been like what his grandma had said ... that he'd been saying 'ow ow ow' all night long,” he said.
“When I checked his skin, it just had spread all over his whole body and I could just see the pain that he was in.”
Measles causes a high fever, cough, muscle aches and, about four days after the first symptoms, it causes a painful red rash. Uriah was in the middle of a classic measles episode.
It’s no laughing matter, doctors say. About one in 1,000 people with measles will get pneumonia. And between one and three in 1,000 will die of pneumonia, a brain inflammation called encephalitis, or another complication.
On a first visit, Uriah’s pediatrician diagnosed flu. “They brought him back in on Thursday because it wasn't getting any better and the pediatrician immediately looked at him and said, ‘You've got to get out of here. You've got to get to the hospital'," Kellie said.
Uriah was put into an isolation unit. Because measles is the most infectious virus ever known, everyone going in or out had to gown up and wear a mask. Uriah couldn’t be near any of the other kids in the pediatrics ward.
But he wasn’t lonely. He was a curiosity, because while anyone born before 1957 almost certainly had measles, vaccination has virtually eliminated it.
“I had a doctor tell me that she's been an infectious disease specialist for 18 years and she had never seen it in person, and so, we just had tons of doctors and students,” Kellie said.
“It's a teaching hospital so everybody kind of wanted, you know, to see the measles kid. There were a few little sores in his mouth which is typical of measles, and so everyone wanted to see inside his mouth.”
Uriah was a very sick little boy. Nurses immediately put him on intravenous saline. “He hadn't eaten or drank anything for about two and a half days, so he was pretty, pretty weak,” Andrew said.
“And it was all new to him.” Before this experience, Uriah had been a healthy child. “He hadn't ever been sick, so a stethoscope scared him. So starting from there and going from needles to more needles to shoving things up his nose, it wasn't very fun for him.”
There’s no specific treatment for measles so doctors make sure a patient is hydrated, give Tylenol or ibuprofen to keep the fever down, and they gave Uriah Benadryl to keep him from scratching his rash.
He’s still not fully recovered. “He's been very, very tired even still. I just think that that was lack of sleep for a good week or just his body dealing with coming back from that,” Kellie said. “He's been extremely tired, sleeping 13, 14 hours a night, taking two- or three-hour naps during the day,” she added.
But he’s bouncing back. “It's been very nice to just have him eat his own food. It's wonderful.”
Kellie and Andrew are not sure precisely when Uriah got infected because he had not been to Disneyland.
"I think my first two immediate responses were ‘Measles? What is this 1950?’"
“The only place we had been in that window of time was on the 31st we went to a New Year’s Eve party at a kid's museum...at a science museum in Santa Ana,” Kellie said.
“And so that's pretty obviously where it would have come from...a kid would've come from Disneyland and 10 days later they were sick and didn't know it and came to this event and that's where Uriah got it.”
It’s unusual but not impossible for a vaccinated child to catch measles. One dose of vaccine fully protects 95 percent of people. Children usually get a second dose at age 4 to 6, before starting school, and that brings the protection rate up to 97 to 99 percent. Uriah hadn’t had that second dose yet.
“I think my first two immediate responses were, ‘Measles? What is this 1950?’ and the second thought was, ‘Wait a minute...I think he's had his shot for that’, so it was a big surprise to us,” Kellie said.
Because measles is so extremely infectious, health officials will be tracking everybody down who attended that New Years’ party and making sure none got measles during the 21-day incubation period. And everyone at Uriah’s preschool will have been watched.
“I don't even want to see what a severe case was.”
“Luckily for us it wasn't very many — we had had kind of a few mellow days,” Kellie said.
“He had been at church briefly and just come into contact with a few little kids and then he had been at school one day.” State and local health officials have to find everyone who may have been close and notify them of the measles risk. The virus can float in the air for up to two hours and linger on surfaces, so it’s a huge job trying to find everyone who could have been exposed.
Having had one vaccine dose probably gave Uriah a better fighting chance, his doctors said.
“We got really lucky. He had a really mild, mild case, too,” said Andrew.
“I don't even want to see what a severe case was.”