More measles cases suspected in Clark County; possible link to Seattle investigated

On Wednesday, Alan Melnick, Clark County's public health director, said, "We have a treatment or prevention vaccine that is 97 percent effective, is completely and utterly safe and is cheap and we shouldn't be seeing cases of measles given that."

The measles outbreak in Clark County may be growing. On Wednesday afternoon authorities said the number of suspected cases there rose to seven from two on Tuesday. Public health officials said 23 measles cases are confirmed. They expect new numbers to be released Thursday.

Officials in Seattle, meanwhile, are investigating whether a man there got the measles in Vancouver. Public Health Seattle & King County said Wednesday that the man in his 50s was hospitalized but has been released. Officials said the man had recently traveled to Vancouver but it's not clear if that's where he was infected.

Authorities say early symptoms of the measles, which include runny nose, coughing, pink eye and fever, are similar to those of other diseases. But if you haven't had the measles vaccine and you think you're infected be careful about how you seek treatment.

"Don't just walk into your doctor's office and don't walk into the emergency department because there you're likely to expose other people," Alan Melnick, Clark County's public health director, told KATU Wednesday. "We're asking people to call their providers first before they go in."

Melnick said the measles is "incredibly contagious" and dangerous.

"It has serious complications. One to three people out of a thousand who get it will die," he explained. "What keeps me up at night is we have a treatment or prevention vaccine that is 97 percent effective, is completely and utterly safe and is cheap and we shouldn't be seeing cases of measles given that."

Melnick said 20 of the 23 confirmed measles cases in Clark County are among people who have not been immunized. In three of the cases the patients' immunization status could not be verified. Most of the patients are children including one who was taken to the hospital.

"We haven't identified one particular site where folks have gotten the disease." Melnick said.

In Washington, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 3.9 percent of kindergartners in school have non-medical exemptions for vaccinations. That's nearly twice the median percentage for non-medical exemptions nationwide, which is 2 percent.

"The vaccination rate as a whole through K-12 in Clark County is around 78 percent," Melnick said. "That's way below what you need for what we call herd immunity. So it plays a big part in what we're looking at here."

Meanwhile, an Oregon Health Authority spokeswoman said Wednesday, “At this time, we have no confirmed measles cases in Oregon linked to the Vancouver outbreak.”

The CDC says the current non-medical exemption rate among Oregon students is 7.5 percent, about twice the rate in Washington.

Melnick said more people should be immunized.

"When you get vaccinated, when you vaccinate your children, you're not only protecting your children, you're protecting everybody they come in contact with especially people who can't be vaccinated," he explained.

Melnick predicts the outbreak will cost a minimum of hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of dollars. He also said unimmunized staff members and students are not being allowed in schools identified as exposure sites for the time being.

Melnick said the first patient in the current outbreak was treated at PeaceHealth Urgent Care – Memorial on Dec. 31. He said it was the first measles case in Clark County since 2011 when three people were treated for the disease.

Those who are infected visited several public places while contagious, including several locations across the Vancouver and Portland metro areas. | Complete List

Physicians say that if you have a child under the age of 1 that you are concerned about, you can talk to your healthcare provider about getting the vaccine early. You should also check with any daycare your child attends to make sure they require their workers to be up to date on immunizations.

If you have any further questions about the measles, call your local health department:

  • Clark County Public Health: (360) 397-8021
  • Clackamas County Public Health: (503) 655-8411
  • Multnomah County Public Health: (503) 988-3406
  • Washington County Public Health: (503) 846-3594

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