Measles outbreak: What to know about the disease, outbreak in Washington, Oregon

An outbreak of measles in Washington state has led state Health Department officials to issue a public safety emergency.

Clark County (Washington) Public Health officials say 36 confirmed cases and 12 suspected cases are related to the outbreak happening in a county with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state, according to The Oregonian.

The outbreak has heightened the debate over the growing number of vaccination exemptions allowed for school-age children across the country, and if those exemptions could lead to outbreaks of diseases that are considered eliminated.

"It's alarming," Dr. Douglas J. Opel, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital, told The Washington Post. "Any time we have an outbreak of a disease that we have a safe and effective vaccine against, it should raise a red flag."

According to The Oregonian, state data shows that nearly 8 percent of children in Clark County were granted vaccination exemptions in the 2017-2018 school year. One of those vaccinations is the MMR – measles, mumps and rubella – vaccination. 

On Tuesday, officials in Georgia confirmed three cases of measles in the same metro Atlanta family. The people reported having the virus had not been vaccinated.

What is measles and what are the symptoms? Here’s a look at the disease.

What is measles? 

Measles is a viral infection.

What are the symptoms?

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth after two or three days
  • A red rash that covers the body follows

How does it spread?

Measles is highly contagious. Measles spreads through coughing and sneezing. It can linger in the air for up to two hours after someone who is infected with the virus coughs or sneezes.

Public health officials in Washington say there are up to 50 locations where those infected have said they visited during the disease’s incubation period. The places include schools, day cares, churches, a Portland Trail Blazers game, the Seattle airport and a Walmart location.

Can it be prevented?

The measles vaccine, which is given in two doses, is 97 percent effective against the virus.

What does herd immunity mean, and why are people talking about it?

When people are vaccinated, the community in which they live gains protection from outbreaks of disease. Not only are you less likely to get a disease if you have been vaccinated, but you are also less likely to come into contact with an infectious disease if others have been vaccinated.

When a large segment of the community has been vaccinated, the risk for an outbreak of disease falls to near zero. When a community reaches that number, it is known as herd immunity.

Herd immunity is different for every disease.

Will measles kill you?

While it is a miserable disease, most people recover. Complications can include pneumonia and swelling of the brain.

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