SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Q: What’s happening with measles in Washington?
Washington has seen a total of 50 confirmed cases just this year, as of Feb. 3. Forty-nine of those were in Clark County, just across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore., nearly 600 miles north of Sacramento.
Of the 50 confirmed cases in Washington, 34 have been kids 10-years-old and younger, and 13 cases have been young people between the ages of 11 and 18.
Forty-two of the 50 people who contracted measles in Washington were not immunized.
“The measles vaccine isn’t perfect, but one dose is 93 percent effective at preventing illness,” Clark County, Wash. Health Officer and Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick said. “The recommended two doses of the measles vaccine provide even greater protection – 97 percent.”
Q: What’s the threat to California?
The measles outbreak is spreading throughout the U.S., and the respiratory disease is highly contagious.
The seriousness of the outbreak prompted US Surgeon General Jerome Adams to issue a video statement on Friday.
“Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease, caused by a virus,” he said.
Q: What are the symptoms?
Early measles symptoms typically mimic cold symptoms: runny nose, high fever, coughing, red, watery eyes, and sore throats. Because of that, a doctor not on alert for measles could misdiagnose the symptoms as a severe cold. That’s why public health officials want medical professionals to be aware of this outbreak.
As the measles disease progresses, a rash spreads all over a person’s body. Usually, it starts on the face – along the hairline and behind the ears – and then spreads to the rest of the body, according to the California Department of Public Health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the symptoms of measles typically start to show about seven to 14 days after a person is infected.
Q: Are kids more at-risk than adults?
People of any age can contract the measles virus, but kids under the age of 5 and adults older than 20 are more likely to suffer complications from the disease, the CDC says.
Common complications include ear infections and diarrhea. More severe and rare complications include pneumonia – a lung infection – and encephalitis, a swelling of the brain.
“As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children,” according to the CDC. “About one child out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability.”
Out of every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it, the CDC says.
Q: How would my kid or I catch measles?
Like a cold, measles can be spread to others through coughing and sneezing, since it is a virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of the person who is infected.
The CDC says the measles virus can live in the air for up to two hours after an infected person coughed or sneezed.
People who breathe contaminated air, or touch an infected surface and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth, can contract the virus.
According to the CDC, “measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.”
Someone sick with measles is contagious from four days before he or she develops the rash until four days after that.
Q: How can I protect against the measles?
“The best protection against measles is getting vaccinated,” US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said. “The measles mumps rubella, or MMR, vaccine provides long-lasting protection against all strains of the measles.”
He called the MMR vaccination “one of the most effective vaccinations we have. Ninety-seven percent of those vaccinated against measles are protected.”
Adams’ three children all got the vaccination, he shared.
Q: Why is this current outbreak happening?
While measles had become fairly uncommon in the US, there are parts of the world where the disease has not been so thoroughly controlled.
The CDC has traced the outbreaks in Washington and New York states to travelers who brought measles back from Israel and Ukraine, where large measles outbreaks are happening.
That’s why the CDC is encouraging travelers to make sure they’re vaccinated.
Q: I've heard the MMR vaccine is unsafe or can cause my child to have autism. Is that true?
The CDC has a lot of information on vaccine safety here.
"Because signs of autism may appear around the same time children receive the MMR vaccine, some parents may worry that the vaccine causes autism," the CDC says. "Vaccine safety experts, including experts at CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), agree that MMR vaccine is not responsible for recent increases in the number of children with autism. In 2004, a report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that there is no link between autism and MMR vaccine, and that there is no link between autism and vaccines that contain thimerosal as a preservative."
The CDC cites carefully performed scientific studies that have found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Q: Who needs the measles vaccine?
Medical professionals say children need two doses of the MMR vaccine: one when the child is between 12- and 15-months-old and the other when the kid is between 4 and 6-years-old.
Young children who will be traveling abroad may be at extra risk. Parents who are planning travel with young children who have not yet been vaccinated should talk to their kids' pediatrician about the MMR vaccine.
"Adults born in 1957 or later should get one dose of the vaccine if they haven’t had measles or didn’t get the vaccine in 1968 or later," the Washington State Department of Health says. "If you’re unsure, you can have a blood test done that will let you know if you have immunity.
Q: Can I get measles from my pet or some other animal?
Measles is a human disease and cannot be spread by or to any other animal, the CDC says.
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