Measles outbreak spreads across Washington

A highly contagious infectious disease is slowly making its way through the state, and 6.1 percent of San Juan County public school students are not immunized against it.

Gov. Jay Inslee declared a public health emergency on Jan. 25, following a string of reported measles cases in Clark and King counties.

“The existence of 26 confirmed cases in the state of Washington creates an extreme public health risk that may quickly spread to other counties,” Inslee said in the proclamation. “The measles vaccine is effective at preventing the disease when given prior to exposure, and proactive steps to provide the vaccination and other measures must be taken quickly to prevent further spread of the disease.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, measles starts with fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and sore throat, followed in a few days by a full body rash. Symptoms usually appear about two weeks after a person has been infected. As with influenza, children too young for inoculation are susceptible as well as elderly people who have neither had the measles nor received the vaccination.

According to the CDC, an average of 6,000 measles-related deaths were reported each year since it became recognized as a nationally notified death in 1912. A vaccine was developed in 1968, before then, nearly all children had measles before they were 15, according to the CDC.

Measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000 because a case had not been reported in more than 12 months, but due to a rise in parents choosing to forgo vaccinations for their children, it has seen a resurgence. Since the declaration in 2000, the annual number of people reported having measles has ranged from 37 people in 2004 to 667 people in 2014.

As of Jan. 29, there were 36 confirmed cases in the state but zero in San Juan County. SJC Health and Human Services suggest that as many people as possible get the measles, mumps, rubella vaccination. Both children and adults are encouraged to get the immunization. Most insurances will cover the cost. To be vaccinated, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

In San Juan County, more than 43 percent of public school students in grades kindergarten through 12 are not fully immunized against diseases like polio, varicella (chickenpox) and measles. More than 11 percent of county students are exempt from immunizations for religious, medical or personal reasons. The county has the highest number of unvaccinated students in the state. Community immunization statistics are typically based on children because of public schools requiring certain vaccination.

“Measles is easily spread when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes. Almost everyone who is not immune will get measles if they are exposed to the measles virus,” a press release from Inslee’s office said. “Because measles is contagious before people realize they are sick, people who are not vaccinated may spread the disease without knowing.”

The current measles outbreak was caused by travelers who brought the disease back from Israel where an outbreak is actively occurring, said the Center for Disease Control’s website. The majority of people who contract measles are unvaccinated, according to the CDC.

“The measles outbreak and its effects impact the life and health of our people, as well as the economy of Washington State, and is a public disaster that affects life, health, property or the public peace,” Inslee said.