Local Measles Case Prompts Emphasis on Importance of Vaccines, Potential for Outbreak

Just over 100 measles cases have been diagnosed in the US this year, but British Columbia has seen an outbreak this spring

A baby who passed through Portland International Airport last week has since been diagnosed with measles, prompting officials to stress the importance of vaccinations against the virus.

While vaccination rates in the Portland area remain relatively high – about 95 percent, according to the Multnomah County Health Department – health officials are working with the child's primary care provider to make sure patients are notified of the exposure and to take appropriate follow up.

“Measles is a serious disease that was eliminated from circulation in the United States thanks to routine childhood vaccination,’’ said Dr. Jennifer Vines, deputy health officer for Multnomah County. Despite its elimination from the U.S., measles continues to be common in many other parts of the world, she added.

About 5 percent of children enrolled in kindergarten and children's facilities in the tri-county area have a measles-specific, non-medical exemption, Vines told The Lund Report. “From the measles prevention standpoint, we like to see vaccination levels at greater than 95 percent in the community. Below 90 percent would be worrisome as far as the risk of an outbreak.”

Thus far this year, there have been 104 measles cases reported in this country, the vast majority (85 percent) acquired overseas or subsequently contracted by someone who had contact with the person infected overseas. Of those 104 cases, Vines added, 81 percent were either unvaccinated or had unknown vaccine status.

The most recent measles outbreak in the United States have been in Orange County California, which has seen 21 cases this year, with no information on vaccine status and New York City, where there have been 23 cases,19 of those unvaccinated. Among the 23 cases in New York, there were five hospitalizations, and everyone recovered, Vines said.

Closer to home, Canadian media have reported more than 300 cases of measles in British Columbia this year, with one traveler bringing the virus home to Whatcom county in Washington state. Vaccination rates for the province are hard to come by, but nationwide, Canada's immunization rate is low, with about 84 percent of children having been immunized against the disease.

While vaccination rates in the greater Portland area are high, as many as 25 percent of children in Jackson County are not up-to-date on childhood immunizations, and a high number of families claim non-medical exemptions from such vaccinations. In 2013, Oregon passed a law that took effect last month that requires parents to talk to a healthcare provider before claiming a non-medical exemption, as non-medical exemptions have resulted in a dip in the number of vaccinated children.

“The measles vaccine is really effective, resulting in immunity for 95 percent of people after just one dose. Among those who don't respond to the first dose, 95 percent respond to the second,” Vines said. “The fact that previously vaccinated individuals get measles is more a marker of how contagious the disease is rather than an indicator of vaccine effectiveness - the virus manages to find the handful the people in the population who happened to not respond to the vaccine.”

The symptoms of measles start with a fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes followed by a red rash that begins at the head and spreads to the rest of the body. People are contagious with measles for four days before a rash appears and up to four days after the rash starts. Once someone is exposed, illness usually develops in seven to 14 days, though in rare cases, it can take up to a month. Anyone who believes they have symptoms of measles should contact their healthcare provider by telephone to avoid exposing others.

Christen can be reached at [email protected].

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