Measles Outbreak Causes Official State of Emergency in Washington

Phillip Cunningham
January 31, 2019

These states have particularly high levels - or "hot spots" - of unvaccinated children and are vulnerable to measles outbreaks, according to a study by Hotez and his colleagues that published a year ago.

Officials anxious Monday that it could take months to contain the highly contagious viral illness due to a lower-than-normal vaccination rate at the epicenter of the crisis.

There were 35 cases of the measles in Clark County, which sits on the state's southern border, just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. The majority of the cases involve children younger than 10. Measles complications can cause people to be hospitalized, including in intensive care units for newborns, children, and adults.

Measles is a highly contagious viral illness.

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

According to figures from Clark County Public Health, 27 of those infected had not gotten a measles vaccine.

"What keeps me up at night is worrying that we're going to have a child die from this, something that's completely preventable", he said. This myth was perpetuated thanks to a small 1998 study which used false data to suggest a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

"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. Since then, two more cases were confirmed in Washington and one case in Oregon.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the measles virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed. The current law in place allows parents to decline immunization for children based on "philosophical or personal objections", health risks as confirmed by a licensed physician, or religious beliefs. 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. 2019 has seen one report so far of a traveller who contracted the infection after returning from the Philippines. One person also traveled using the Portland International airport of January 7, and another went to a Portland Trail Blazers game on January 11.

They announced Monday that others could have been infected at the popular Oregon Museum of Science & Industry in Portland and a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the bedroom community of Vancouver, Washington. In other words, unvaccinated individuals could be infected, such as babies under 12 months that would not ordinarily be vaccinated yet.

The vaccine has been part of routine childhood shots for decades, and measles was declared eliminated in the 2000.

These states have particularly high levels - or "hot spots" - of unvaccinated children, and are vulnerable to measles outbreaks, according to a study by Hotez and his colleagues that published previous year. Officials now worry the virus will spread to other large metropolitan areas. At least 31 of those sick were not vaccinated. To this day, it still kills 100,000 children a year worldwide, most under the age of five.

The full vaccine is 97% effective and provides immunity for life.

Protection against measles can be substantially increased through vaccination.

People who have had measles are also considered to be immune from getting the illness a second time, similar to chicken pox.

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