Health officials believe the risk to the general public is low, but people who have not been immunized may be at risk if they were exposed to the disease.
A King County resident contracted measles after traveling to Clark County, where an outbreak has spread to at least 25 people, public-health officials said Wednesday.
The man, who is in his 50s, was hospitalized but has since recovered, according to a statement from Public Health — Seattle & King County. Tests have confirmed the man suffered from measles. Health officials have not yet determined where he contracted the disease, although he may have been exposed during a recent trip to Vancouver, Washington, according to Public Health.
Symptoms of measles include fever, rash, cough and red, watery eyes, which usually show seven to 21 days after exposure, according to Public Health. The disease is contagious four days before a rash appears and four days after. Infants and children under 5, adults older than 20, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems have the highest risk for complications.
The Clark County Council declared a public-health emergency last week because of a measles outbreak that had 25 confirmed and 12 suspected cases as of Thursday. Of those confirmed to have contracted the disease, 21 were not immunized, and health officials are still verifying the immunization status of the other four people. Researchers called the nearby Portland area a “hot spot” for outbreaks due to a high rate of nonmedical exemptions from vaccines, according to The Washington Post.
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The King County region has also been designated a “hot spot” in medical literature because it is home to pockets of undervaccinated communities, but health officials think the risk of this case to residents is low, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health. Most people in the region have been vaccinated, and he said officials don’t believe this single infection will ignite a full-on outbreak.
Parents may choose not to vaccinate their children for a number of reasons, including the belief vaccines can cause autism, which has been disproved by studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In King County, 91 percent of children at the kindergarten age have received the recommended two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, which provides more than 95 percent protection against measles, Duchin said. However, that percentage varies among communities and schools, he said, and the target is to have 95 percent of children vaccinated to prevent outbreaks, since measles is highly contagious.
“If you don’t have immunity, you can get it just by being in a room where a person with measles has been,” Duchin said.
People who have not been immunized or had measles before may be at risk if exposed to the disease. Those who believe they may have been exposed should call a health-care provider if they experience illness with a fever or unexplained rash between Jan. 16 and Feb. 6, Duchin said. To prevent spreading measles, patients should call a hospital to discuss being evaluated instead of just walking in.
Public Health officials have a list of times and places in King County where nonimmunized people might have been exposed to measles, including a Boeing construction site in Auburn, high-school basketball games in Kent and health-care facilities in Covington.
This story was updated to reflect that laboratory tests confirmed the King County man had contracted measles, according to Public Health.