Measles outbreak in Washington anti-vaccine hot spot: What to know

A measles outbreak is rapidly spreading across a Washington county known for choosing not to vaccinate its children, and health officials have declared a public health emergency.

As of Tuesday, Clark County, Washington, which is about nine miles away from Portland, Oregon, identified 38 confirmed cases and 13 suspected cases since the beginning of the year. Most cases are affecting children younger than 10. 

The county has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state: More than 22 percent of public school students did not complete their vaccinations, The Oregonian reported, citing state records. 

Here’s what you should know about the measles and this outbreak:

What is measles? What are the symptoms?

Measles is an extremely contagious illness caused by a virus that is spread through the air. 

People infected develop a red spotted rash that starts inside the mouth and spreads all over the body. Symptoms include fevers as high as 104 degrees, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes.  

How serious is it?

In 2017, about 110,000 died from measles, mostly among children younger than five, around the world, according to the World Health Organization. Young children and adults older than 20 are more likely to suffer measles complications that can be deadly.

As many as one out of every 20 children infected with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children, according to health officials. One in every 1,000 children with measles develops swelling of the brain that can cause deafness or an intellectual disability. Pregnant women with measles might give birth early or have a low-weight baby.

Is there a cure?

There is no specific treatment available for measles. 

How contagious is it? 

Measles is so contagious that 90 percent of unvaccinated people who come in contact with an infected person will get the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus can linger in the air for up to two hours after an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can spread four days before and after symptoms appear. 

How effective is the vaccine?

The measles two-dose vaccine is 97 percent effective against the virus, according to the CDC. 

How many people have been affected?

Clark County Public Health officials have identified 38 confirmed cases and 13 suspected cases related to the outbreak.

So far, 27 children ages 1 to 10 have been infected; 10 children ages 11 to 18; and one person between the age of 19 and 29. Thirty-four cases have been in unvaccinated people. Vaccine records for the four others were not immediately known. 

Where are people being infected?

Over 50 locations have been identified as possible exposure locations, including Portland International Airport, a Walmart Supercenter and a host of schools and churches. 

Why aren’t people vaccinating? 

People choosing not to vaccinate have become a global health threat in 2019, the World Health Organization reported this month. The CDC recognized that the number of children who aren’t being vaccinated by 24 months old has been gradually increasing.

Some parents opt not to vaccinate because of the discredited belief vaccines are linked to autism. The CDC said that there is no link and that there are no ingredients in vaccines that could cause autism.

More: These 15 U.S. cities are hotspots for kids not getting vaccines

Contributing: Brett Molina and Joel Shannon. Follow Ashley May on Twitter: @AshleyMayTweets

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