Measles outbreak prompts state of emergency declaration by Washington governor

The governor of Washington declared a state public health emergency Friday after more than two dozen measles cases have been reported, primarily affecting small children.

Governor Jay Ipsee said in a statement that the Washington State Military Department and State Emergency Operations Center will be working with the Department of Health to combat the overwhelming influx of measles cases, of which there have been 32 as of Saturday, according to the DOH.

Those infected are primarily isolated to Clark County, in southwest Washington, which directly borders Portland, Oregon. One case has now reportedly spread to Kings County, which includes Seattle, Washington.

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County officials revealed that people may have been exposed in at least one instance when an infected person attended a Portland Trailblazers home game. Other contagious people also visited the Portland International Airport, as well as hospitals, schools, churches and other busy public places.

Ipsee previously issued a local public health emergency in Clark County last week, but now extends it to the entire state of Washington.

“The measles virus is a highly contagious infectious disease that can be fatal in small children, and the existence of 26 confirmed cases in the state of Washington creates an extreme public health risk that may quickly spread to other counties,” he said last week.

Health officials have said 21 of the reported measles cases have affected children between the ages of one and 10.

Though the measles MMR vaccine has been highly effective since it was first widely distributed in the United States in 1968, there has been a rising trend of parents deciding against vaccinating their children. According to an October report by the CDC, 2018 was the third consecutive year in which numbers of children entering school with vaccine exemptions rose. Data from a National Immunization Survey also revealed that the number of children reaching age 2 without having received any vaccinations has increased gradually, from 0.9% for children born in 2011 to 1.3% for children born in 2015.

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These rates of non-vaccination are particularly high in the state of Oregon, which is worrisome considering its close proximity to the outbreak in nearby Clark County, Washington. Vaccine exemptions in Oregon increased from just 1 percent in 2000 to 7.5 percent in the 2016-2017 school year, according to PBS.

Governor Jay Ipsee as declared a state public health emergency after more than two dozen measles cases have been reported, primarily affecting small children
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The virus is something not to be taken lightly, Peter Jay Hotez, a vaccinologist at the Baylor College of Medicine told the publication.

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“Before we started vaccinating against measles, measles was the single leading killer of children in the world,” he said.