Health leaders are warning the public of the first measles outbreak in Spokane County in more than 20 years.
So far, the outbreak is small – just one case, but officials say the infected person may have exposed hundreds of people to the disease after his or her symptoms first appeared while at health care facilities seeking treatment and during an eight-hour period at a Qdoba restaurant on the South Hill.
The infected person is an adult who was unvaccinated against the measles and is not hospitalized, said Dorothy MacEachern, an epidemiologist for the Spokane Regional Health District.
The district is leading an effort to warn anyone who may have had contact with the patient to be on the lookout for symptoms and asking all members of the public to make sure they are immunized.
Measles is respiratory disease caused by a virus spread as sufferers sneeze or cough. Symptoms usually start similar to many other sicknesses: fever, sore throat and runny nose. But after a few days, a rash usually appears. Serious complications may occur. For every 1,000 measles cases in children, one or two likely will die, the health district reported.
“Measles is extremely contagious,” MacEachern said.
The district also stressed the risk to the public is low because most people are vaccinated.
Last year, 32 cases were diagnosed in Washington, the most since 1996, according to state Department of Health data. The case in Spokane County is the ninth in the state this year.
The health district was informed of the possible case on Sunday. Test results confirmed measles on Tuesday afternoon, MacEachern said.
Officials have declined to identify the age or sex of the measles patient. Citing privacy concerns, they also have declined to say if the person was a Qdoba employee. A person who answered the phone at the Qdoba location and identified herself as a manager declined to comment. Attempts made to reach a Qdoba spokeswoman were unsuccessful.
The health department has released the locations where the individual may have come into contact with the public while he or she was contagious.
• Qdoba, 901 S. Grand Blvd., from 3 to 11 p.m. April 12.
• North Park Racquet and Athletic Club, 8121 N. Division St., from 1 to 6 p.m. April 13
• Franklin Park Urgent Care, 5904 N. Division St., from 3:45 to 7:30 p.m. on April 15.
• Emergency Department at Providence Holy Family Hospital, 5633 N Lidgerwood St., from 9:45 p.m. Thursday to 5 a.m. April 17 and again from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. April 19.
Anyone who might catch measles from this person could already be experiencing symptoms. However, it’s possible symptoms wouldn’t emerge until as late as May 10, the health district said.
The first symptoms of measles don’t begin until one to three weeks after the person was exposed. The sufferer is not contagious, however, until symptoms emerge. It’s possible that someone who was exposed and unvaccinated could get protection by getting vaccinated, MacEachern said.
MacEachern said if someone believes they may have measles they should contact the health district or their medical provider before going to a setting where other people may be to help avoid further exposing the public.
Donn Moyer, Washington Department of Health spokesman, said many outbreaks in recent years were related to foreign travel. In this case, however, the patient has not traveled outside the area and is unsure how infection could have occurred.
“If the person didn’t travel and no one else shows up with symptoms, it may be a dead end,” Moyer said.
Once common, vaccination programs that began in the 1960s virtually wiped out the disease from the United States over the next few decades. In the 1950s, Washington averaged about 13,000 measles cases a year. By the 1970s, Washington averaged less than 1,000 cases a year. In the 2000s, the state averaged just five cases a year.
But widespread fears about vaccinations and the rise of parents who opt not to vaccinate their children have raised new concerns about measles.
In February, Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan, a health district board member, publicly questioned the safety of vaccines and solicited responses from anyone who “had a bad experience with vaccines.”
All other members of the health board, however, said they don’t question the safety of vaccines and have backed the health district’s efforts to promote vaccinations.
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