Gov. Jay Inslee declared a public health emergency in the state this week as the number of cases of people with measles continues to rise.
The declaration came on Jan. 25 when the number of confirmed cases reached 26. It has now hit 37. All but one case is centered in Clark County, which has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the state, with about one in four children not receiving their vaccinations. The only other case so far has been reported in King County.
The majority of measles cases are children, with 25 of the 35 confirmed cases impacting children under 10 years old. The King County measles case involved a middle-aged man who visited Clark County where he likely contracted the virus and has since recovered.
Pierce County has a vaccination rate of 90 percent and has not had any reported cases of measles so far, but that could just be a matter of time.
“Measles is a highly contagious and infectious disease that can be fatal in small children,” Inslee stated in his proclamation that directs state agencies and departments to do everything reasonably possible to assist affected areas and requests additional medical resources from other states to help contain the outbreak.
The Washington State Department of Health, for example, has instituted an infectious disease Incident Management Structure to manage the public health aspects of the incident through investigations of possible cases, laboratory testing and other efforts to protect communities around the state. The Washington Military Department is also coordinating resources to support the statewide effort as well as local officials in alleviating the impacts to people, property and infrastructure.
State lawmakers have introduced a bill that would remove the personal or philosophical objection to the measles vaccination for parents not vaccinating their children as otherwise required to attend public schools.
Measles is easily spread when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes. People are contagious long before they show symptoms and almost everyone who is not immune through vaccinations will get measles if they are exposed to the virus. Because measles is contagious even before people realize they are sick, people who are not vaccinated may unknowingly spread the virus. DOH urges everyone to check their immunization records to verify that they are fully immunized and get vaccinated if they are not already.
Symptoms of measles can often be similar to cold or flu symptoms, including: fever, diarrhea, coughing, runny nose, red and watery eyes, and fatigue. The telltale sign of measles is a rash that usually starts on the face and can spread over the entire body. In some people, especially people who have chronic medical problems, are pregnant, or are malnourished, measles also leads to serious problems such as pneumonia, brain damage, blindness, deafness, and death.
People who believe they have these symptoms should contact their healthcare provider and avoid contact with other people to void the illness from spreading further. They should also avoid using emergency rooms, which can easily become overwhelmed with non-emergency cases. Effective treatments for people with measles are largely limited to drinking lots of fluids, rest, Vitamin A and over the counter pain relievers.
“Vaccines are really the only effective treatment,” said Dr. Nathan Schlicher at St. Joseph Medical Center’s Emergency Services Department. There is no magic bullet cure to fight it.”
Prompted by the outbreak Safeway and Albertsons pharmacies are reminding people that they are offering measles vaccination, for extended hours seven days a week and accept most insurance plans. Vaccinations are free for children and low cost for adults at area hospitals through a partnership with Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, as well, which partners with Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital’s free vaccination clinics for children. The department also has a calendar of clinic dates and times. The MultiCare Immunization Clinic at South Hill Mall in Puyallup also offers free and low-cost immunizations to children and adults.
The more you know about measles…
- Measles is extremely contagious, and can be serious, especially for young children.
- Measles virus travels through the air.
- You can get measles if you go near someone who has the virus because the virus stays for up to two hours in the air of a room where a person with measles has been.
- You can catch measles from an infected person as early as four days before he or she has a rash and for up to four days after the rash appears.
- The best protection against measles is the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella viruses.
- Almost everyone who is not immune will get measles if they are exposed to the measles virus.
- Foreign travel or exposure to foreign travelers increases the risk for measles.
If you don’t think you ever had an MMRV vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella/chickenpox), contact your healthcare provider for immunizations. If you don’t have a healthcare provider, call your local health department or the Family Health Hotline at 1 (800) 322-2588.