A measles outbreak in an anti-vaccine community in Washington state has been declared a public health emergency by health officials.
So far, 23 cases of the highly contagious disease have been confirmed in Clark County since January 1, according to a Clark County Public Health report published on Tuesday.
Twenty of the cases are in children who have not been vaccinated. Eighteen of the cases are in children age 10 and younger.
Many parents are citing belief-based reasons, rather than medical reasons, for opting their kids out of immunizations.
Doctors say the county has become an anti-vaxxer ‘hotspot’ and that the only way to curb the crisis is to ban non-medical exemptions completely.
Officials have declared a public health emergency in Clark County in Washington state after confirming 23 cases of measles since January 1
Clark County – which sits across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon – has led Oregon officials to warn residents about potential areas of exposure.
People infected with the virus have visited several locations including elementary schools, high schools, churches, urgent care facilities, a Costco and a Dollar Tree.
An infected person was at the Portland International Airport on January 7 – at Concourse D and the Delta Sky Lounge – and at baggage claim and the south end of the ticket counter on January 15, reported The Columbian.
On January 11, someone infected with the virus attended a Portland Trailblazers home game.
Measles is a highly contagious infection caused by the measles virus.
When someone with measles coughs, sneezes or talks, infected droplets are sprayed into the air, where other people can inhale them and are then infected.
Symptoms present themselves between 10 to 14 days after infection and include fever, cough, runny nose and a total-body skin rash.
Once common, the disease is now rare due to the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends children receive the first dose at 12 to 15 months old and the second dose at four to six years old.
The vaccine is about 97 percent effective. But those who are unvaccinated have a 90 percent chance of catching measles if they breathe the virus in, the CDC says.
Before the measles vaccine was available, more than 500,000 cases were diagnosed in the US every year, with about 500 annual deaths.
In 2018, 349 cases of measles were confirmed in 26 states and the District of Columbia, the CDC reported.
It is the second-greatest number since measles was considered eradicated in the US in 2000.
STATES THAT ALLOW PARENTS TO OPT OUT OF VACCINES BASED ON PHILOSOPHICAL BELIEFS
- Louisiana (except no religious exemptions)
- Minnesota (except no religious exemptions)
- Missouri (only for daycare, not public school)
- North Dakota
STATES THAT RECENTLY REVOKED THIS ALLOWANCE:
- West Virginia
A report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) last week said measles has seen a 30 percent increase in cases around the world.
Between September 2017 and August 2018, WHO reported more than 41,000 cases with 40 deaths in EU member states.
State records show that 77.4 percent of all public students in Clark County received all their vaccines, making it among the worst in Washington state, according to The Oregonian.
Additionally, nearly eight percent of children in the county were exempt from getting vaccines required for kindergarten for the 2017-18 school year.
A mere 1.2 percent were for medical reasons, while the rest were for ‘conscientious objector’ or ‘philosophical/personal beliefs’.
This makes the area a ‘hotspot’ of the anti-vaccine movement, according to Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
‘Last year, I co-authored an article identifying the hotpots of anti-vaxxers,’ he told DailyMail.com. ‘One of the ground zero hotspots is Portland and adjoining Clark County.’
He says the best way to stop this spread of cases is to get rid of non-medical vaccine exemptions. Washington and Oregon are two of 18 US states that allow this.
‘Having all these unvaccinated children in Clark County is like pouring gasoline over a fire in the Portland area, and the gasoline is measles,’ said Dr Hotez.
‘It’s this horrible self-inflicted wound that never should have happened.’
He also says this is potentially just the beginning of the outbreak and that it could get far bigger.
‘[The measles outbreak] in New York was just among the Orthodox Jewish community,’ Dr Hotez said, in reference to 177 measles cases that hit the Big Apple last year.
‘Here, in the Portland area, it’s pervasive, so it could be worse and larger.
‘And it’s expensive to hospitals and to local and public health officials to treat these cases and to track down these cases and get people vaccinated.’