Measles Outbreak Worsens in Washington State

Pearl Mccarthy
January 30, 2019

The measles outbreak near Portland has sickened 35 people in OR and Washington since January 1, with 11 more cases suspected, as of Monday. That is a significant increase from Friday's reported numbers when Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency.

"The measles virus is a highly contagious infectious disease that can be fatal in small children, and the existence of 26 confirmed cases in the state of Washington creates an extreme public health risk that may quickly spread to other counties", he said last week.

Health officials in OR have raised concerns that the virus could easily cross the border.

As of Sunday afternoon, those figures were 34 cases in Clark County (mostly children) and one case in King County (an adult who had visited the affected area).

If you live in or near Clark County, or have just been there recently, you should make sure you've gotten the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. In 2018, six cases of measles were reported among BC residents: two cases acquired infection during travel out of Canada (India and Philippines, respectively), and four acquired infection from imported cases.

The first known patients in this outbreak sought medical care on December 31, but officials don't know if other people may have gotten sick before that and did not seek treatment, the AP reported.

People who choose not to vaccinate their children are underestimating the dangers of the illness, said Melnick, who himself had measles as a child, before the vaccine was commonplace.

In the USA last year, there were 17 outbreaks and about 350 cases of measles. The disease is so contagious that 90 per cent of unvaccinated people who are exposed will catch it.

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As concerning as measles outbreaks are, she also reminds parents that many other viruses are far more common. And Seattle, Spokane and Portland are among 15 US cities considered "hot spots" for their high rates of non-medical exemptions to vaccines that cover measles, mumps and rubella.

"While we do want to have a heightened level of concern and be aware of measles, there are many more much more common viruses that are circulating", she said. Because carriers can spread the virus through the air before they ever get symptoms, they could easily have flown while capable of making others sick.

The vaccination rate in the area is 78 percent, lower than average, and that's making it harder to contain the outbreak.

Doctors say the full vaccine is 97 per cent effective and protects you for life.

While nearly all states allow exemptions from their vaccination legislation on religious grounds, Washington state is one of 18 states that also allow exemptions on the grounds of personal or moral beliefs. The disease is contagious from approximately four days before the characteristic rash appears to four days after the rash appears.

Most of the people who have contracted the disease were not vaccinated.

Every time an unvaccinated person who has been exposed to measles goes out in public, "it starts that clock over again", Armstrong said. General symptoms are fever, diarrhea, coughing, runny nose, red and watery eyes and tiredness.

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