Sunday, February 3, 2019
[Orange County] What Californians should know about the measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest
Blog note: this article references a 2017 grand jury report.
An ongoing measles outbreak in Washington has led that state’s governor to declare a public health emergency.
Thirty-five cases of measles have been reported as of Monday in Washington, all of which are in Clark County, which borders Portland, Ore. One case was reported in Seattle, which is in King County. The outbreak is threatening neighboring Oregon.
A majority of these cases involve children between 1 and 10 who had not been vaccinated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 17 measles outbreaks in the United States last year totaling 349 cases across 26 states (including California) and the District of Columbia.
The year 2018 saw the second-highest number of annual cases reported since measles was eliminated in the United States in 2000. One of the outbreaks last year was in New York state with more than 180 cases occurring among Orthodox Jewish communities.
A state law passed in response to that outbreak boosted vaccination rates among Orange County kindergartners and reduced the number of school districts where low immunization rates threatened to cause the spread of the disease, according to an Orange County Grand Jury report released in May 2017.
Dr. Shruti Gohil, associate medical director of epidemiology and infection prevention at UCI Medical Center was one of the doctors who treated measles patients in Orange County during the outbreak.
Gohil talked to the Southern California News Group about what these measles outbreaks mean for public health.
How and why do these outbreaks happen?
Outbreaks in the United States tend to happen when patients come from another country active with measles and expose others who might not be vaccinated here. Reduction in vaccination rates in some parts of the country have also contributed to these outbreaks.
Measles is also one of the most contagious viruses we know because it’s airborne. Being in a public space with someone who is contagious can put you at risk if you are not vaccinated.
The viruses just hang in the air and all you have to do is breathe it in.
What’s the difference between flu or cold symptoms and measles symptoms?
Measles typically begins with mild to moderate fever accompanied by coughing, sore throats and red eyes.
The fever might climb up two to three days later and that’s when patients begin to develop the red, blotchy rash, which almost always begins at the top of the head and then marches down your body.
With measles, what many people don’t realize is they can be contagious even before they start noticing symptoms such as the rash. So, you could begin spreading it even before you know you have measles.
Why should people get the measles vaccine?
We tend to forget how vaccines have helped control this disease.
One or two out of 1,000 people who got measles used to die from it. One in 1,000 developed a neurological complication and one in 20 developed pneumonia.
The measles vaccine is 97 percent effective at two doses. Even one dose gets you at 93 percent effectiveness.
Side effects from the vaccination are allergic reactions such as pain and swelling. But more severe reactions are extremely rare.
What were some of the lessons learned after the Orange County measles outbreak?
Our vaccination rates did go up, which was good to see. When the outbreak happened, even those who did not want to vaccinate their children came and got them.
As physicians, we were able to get a better understanding of the disease because we hadn’t seen real measles cases recently.
For example, our healthcare workers learned very quickly to immediately place patients in isolated rooms so we could eliminate risks for other patients.
What are the chances of this outbreak becoming more widespread?
The risk of propagating the virus will be higher in areas where vaccination rates are lower.
The best way to prevent the outbreak from becoming more widespread is to get vaccinated.
If you are traveling to another country, check the CDC’s website to find out if there is a current measles outbreak. South Korea, for example, is experiencing an outbreak.
January 29, 2019
Orange County Register and Pasadena Star-News
By Deepa Bharath, Orange County Register