Washington Declares State of Emergency Over Measles Outbreak

In Clark County, where 36 cases have been reported, 31 were not immunized.

Measles vaccination
Do you need a measles booster shot? (Flickr.)

Health officials in the state of Washington have declared an emergency over a recent measles outbreak and are urging citizens to become immunized.

The spread of the potentially deadly disease has reached two counties as of Monday as authorities try to convince people in the area to protect themselves, NPR reported. The neighborhoods have a particularly lower-than-normal vaccination rate.

There are currently 36 confirmed cases in the state with 11 more suspected — a jump from 26 confirmed this past Friday.

“The measles virus is a highly contagious infectious disease that can be fatal in small children, and the existence of 26 confirmed cases in the state of Washington creates an extreme public health risk that may quickly spread to other counties,” Gov. Jay Inslee said on Friday.

Of the 36 people who have contracted the disease, 31 of them were not immunized — 25 of which are children under 10-years-old. Any child over age 1 can receive the vaccination.

Measles was declared completely eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 because of the country’s widespread vaccination program. However, newly minted state laws that allow parents to opt out of mandatory vaccinations quickly began eroding away at those statistics, leading to outbreaks across the nation.

Washington state epidemiologist Scott Lindquist told NPR that this is likely only the beginning of the epidemic because many of the families with infected children traveled to very public places, including Costco, Ikea, the Portland International Airport and the basketball arena where the Portland Trail Blazers play.

“Folks that are immuno-compromised — pregnant women, young kids and those that are unvaccinated — could be at risk for this disease” without realizing it because the telltale measles rash might not appear for four days into the sickness, Washington state epidemiologist Scott Lindquist told NPR.

The measles virus travels through the air and lingers for up to two hours, making it possible for any unprotected person to contract it without even being near a person with the virus. It can cause serious complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis, and can be deadly.

“Almost everyone who is not immune will get measles if they are exposed,”  Inslee noted.

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