Public Health officials closely monitoring measles outbreak in Washington state

  • By Brian Mazurek Peninsula Clarion
  • Thursday, January 31, 2019 10:44pm
  • News

The Alaska Division of Public Health is taking several precautionary measures in the wake of reports of a measles outbreak in Washington state. On Jan. 25, the governor of Washington state declared an emergency after two dozen cases of measles were reported in the state. Since that time, the state’s department of health website has reported a total of 42 confirmed cases of measles, with all but one of the cases coming from Clark County.

Because Washington state is one of the primary thoroughfares for Alaskans traveling to the Lower 48 and vice versa, Alaska’s Division of Public Health is concerned that the outbreak could possibly spread to Alaska. According to Tami Marsters, a nurse with the Department of Health and Social Services, all medical providers in the state have been alerted to the situation and have been told to be on the lookout for measles symptoms in all patients.

According to the Department of Health and Social Services, Measles presents itself with similar symptoms to the flu, including fever, coughing and runny nose. Key symptoms that help medical professionals identify the virus are red watery eyes and a rash that covers most of the body.

Public health nurse Leslie Felts said that anyone concerned about themselves or their family members being at risk should first make sure that they are properly vaccinated. Children can receive the measles vaccine, referred to as the MMR vaccine, after they are 1 year old. A second dose is recommended at age 4. Anyone born before 1957 is considered already immune, as those individuals are likely to have contracted measles at some point in their childhood. Beyond that, Felts’s advice for minimizing the risk of infection was simple: “Stay home if you’re sick.”

Measles is one of the most infectious diseases out there and is potentially fatal. It is an airborne virus with a 90 percent infection rate for those who are susceptible and have been exposed to it. One in every 1,000 cases of measles results in the patient developing acute encephalitis or neurological complications.

Both Marsters and Felts agree that while nothing is ever 100 percent guaranteed when it comes to treating and preventing illnesses, herd immunity can make all the difference in preventing an outbreak. “Herd immunity” is the idea that a community only becomes vulnerable to a disease if portions of that community remain unvaccinated.

Masters and Felts said that the most common causes of contracting measles are being unvaccinated or traveling to countries where many people remain unvaccinated. For example, the last case reported in Alaska occurred on June 9, 2015, and the person who contracted the illness had recently traveled to Central Asia.

According to Clark County Public Health in Washington state, 37 of the 41 confirmed measles cases are people who are unvaccinated, while the other four have not been verified. All but one of the cases are children under the age of 18. As of Jan. 31, there are no cases of measles reported in Alaska.

• By BRIAN MAZUREK, Peninsula Clarion

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