Published: Wed, January 30, 2019
Medicine | By Tracy Klein

Measles outbreak fuels debate over refusing vaccinations


Washington state has introduced legislation that would no longer allow a personal exemption but that is in the early stages.

There's a measles outbreak in Washington state. That is a significant increase from Friday's reported numbers when Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency.

"Measles are so contagious that if you are not immunized against it you will nearly for sure get it if you are exposed to someone who has the disease", Danielle Koenig with Washington Department of Health said. At least 36 cases have been confirmed in Clark County across from Portland, Oregon and health officials said it has now spread to Hawaii. The vaccine-exemption rate in Clark County for non-medical reasons was high, at 7.5 percent, Armstrong said.

The outbreak has sickened 36 people in OR and Washington since January 1.

Lindquist added that officials are particularly concerned that "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. As a result, people may not know they are carrying the disease and could easily unwittingly expose others to the extremely contagious virus.

Measles virus travels through the air. Measles can be spread by coughing, sneezing, and even simply by breathing. Serious complications such pneumonia and brain infections can arise from the disease in some cases. Over the weekend, nine more cases were discovered. In the remaining cases, authorities had not yet verified their immunization status. One child has been hospitalized. "However, the majority of people exposed to measles are not at-risk of developing the disease since most people have either been vaccinated or have had measles in the past, before vaccination became routine".

All but eradicated from the United States thanks to comprehensive vaccination programs, measles is still endemic in other parts of the world, and once in a while it hitches a ride to our country via worldwide travel. However, state laws allowing parents to opt out of mandatory vaccinations quickly began eroding those statistics, leading to outbreaks across the nation. Health officials expect the number of cases to continue to rise. The CDC attributed the jump to primarily unvaccinated people in the Orthodox Jewish communities in New York state, New York City and New Jersey.

But children who are immunocompromised - like those who are on steroids or who are undergoing chemotherapy, for example - are also unable to be vaccinated.

In the last few days, there has been an outbreak of measles in the Washington state just across the line from Portland, Oregon. The proportion of children receiving no vaccine doses by 2 years old rose from 0.9% among those born in 2011 to 1.3% among those born in 2015, the CDC reported in October.

"Measles was eliminated from the United States in 2000, but it's been allowed to return", Peter Hotez, an infectious diseases researcher at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Vox.

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