Local school officials say Pullman students are at low risk of contracting measles despite an outbreak of the virus in a southwestern Washington county that prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency Friday.
Superintendent of Pullman Schools Bob Maxwell said the district would consider more aggressive tactics if the outbreak were to spread, including barring unvaccinated children from attending school. He said the district’s head nurse, Michelle Hyatt, is coordinating with the county to ensure schools are taking the appropriate steps.
“That’s pretty typical protocol that we engage with,” Maxwell said. “The other is really taking another look at our immunization status and records.”
According to the Washington Department of Health, vaccination rates in Pullman schools hover around 90 percent. Officials say 38 of the 39 confirmed cases were identified in Clark County, where vaccination rates are between 68 and 79 percent. Clark County Public Health said in a statement Wednesday there are also 13 suspected cases. Most of the confirmed cases involve patients younger than 10.
Director of Whitman County Public Health Troy Henderson said there are no known or suspected cases on the east side of the state.
“I wouldn’t say there’s any reason to worry, I’d just say folks should get prepared as best they can,” Henderson said. “The best way to get prepared is to make sure you and your children that you’re responsible for are up to date on your vaccinations.”
Measles was the No. 1 killer of children worldwide before the vaccine was made available in 1963. At the time in the U.S., the disease annually infected between 3-4 million people and killed as many as 500. Two doses of the measles vaccine are 97 percent effective against infection, and in 2000, officials announced the disease had been eliminated from the U.S. Measles infections have been on the rise in recent years because of anti-vaccine sentiment and debunked claims the inoculations have a connection to autism. Washington, Idaho and Oregon are among 18 states that allow parents to opt out of immunizing their children for philosophical reasons.
Measles symptoms include high fever, cough, red and watery eyes, and a rash that usually appears around three days after symptoms first manifest. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, measles is spread through the air and can linger for up to two hours after the infected person has left the area. CDC data show 90 percent of people who are unvaccinated near someone who is infected will contract the disease. It can take as long as two weeks for symptoms to first appear after someone is infected, increasing the likelihood of spreading the disease.
The CDC advises those who believe they are infected should stay home for four days after developing the rash to minimize the likelihood of spreading the disease.
“You also don’t want to just go to your doctor’s office,” Henderson said. “What you need to do is call your doctor and talk to them rather than going into the lobby of the doctor’s office or the hospital.”
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