Until measles is eradicated, vaccines are a must.
Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency Jan. 25 to bolster the state’s response to a growing measles outbreak in Clark County that could spread widely. Most of the 49 confirmed cases in Clark County are school-aged children, and all are unvaccinated against measles or without verification of vaccination. In King County, one case has been reported, and we remain very concerned about the potential for additional cases locally.
Measles is an ongoing threat in the U.S. because of large outbreaks throughout the world. Virtually all people who travel internationally are at risk of being exposed to measles. Outbreaks in the U.S. start when an international traveler is exposed to measles and returns home, or someone infected in another country visits the United States while contagious.
Measles causes fever, rash, cough and red, watery eyes, and has the potential to develop into a severe illness, especially in infants, unvaccinated young children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems from medications or diseases. Measles complications can include ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia and, in rare cases, encephalitis (brain inflammation).
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Before we began routinely immunizing children, each year in the U.S. measles caused millions of infections, tens of thousands of hospitalizations, several thousand cases of encephalitis (brain swelling), and several hundred deaths. During measles outbreaks in the U.S. from 1989-1991, approximately 55,000 people were infected and 123 died.
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Measles is preventable with the safe and highly effective measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. All children and adults up-to-date with their MMR vaccinations are protected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two doses of the MMR vaccine are more than 95 percent effective in preventing measles, and that protection is long lasting.
However, measles is a cause for serious concern for anyone who does not have immunity. Measles is unique because it is so highly contagious. The measles virus can hang in the air, so people without immunity can become infected by just being in a room where someone with measles has been, even if that person left that room two hours ago.
Measles spreads effectively among unvaccinated people any place where people gather. For protection against outbreaks, nearly all children must be vaccinated. And although in King County overall 91 percent of children have received both MMR doses by the time they start kindergarten, there are too many schools and classrooms where MMR vaccination rates are low enough to allow measles outbreaks to spread effectively.
If a child you care for is more than 12 months old and doesn’t have two doses of MMR vaccine, it is a good idea to talk to their pediatrician or other health-care provider about catching up. Adults born after 1956 should have at least one dose of MMR vaccine. Many adults, such as health-care workers and those who travel internationally, should have two doses.
Public Health — Seattle & King County, UW Medicine, Harborview Medical Center and other local health-care organizations and agencies are working to get the message out about the importance of vaccination to prevent measles outbreaks locally. We understand that during outbreaks, rumors can and will compete with the facts. You may continue to have questions, and we encourage you to talk about concerns with your health-care provider.
More information also is available about measles and the local situation from:
- Public Health — Seattle & King County (gov/measles)
- Washington State Department of Health (wa.gov/measles)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (gov/measles )
Thank you for doing your part to keep our community healthy and for playing an important role in the well-being of our children.