VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) – Public health officials struggling to contain a measles outbreak in the northwestern US have warned people to vaccinate their children on Monday and fear it will take months to contain the highly contagious viral disease because of a lower vaccination rate than the normal at the epicenter of the disease. crisis.
The outbreak near Portland has left 35 sick people in Oregon and Washington since January 1 with 11 more suspected cases. The majority of the patients are children under 10 years of age and one child was hospitalized.
Health officials say the outbreak is an example of why it is essential to vaccinate against measles, which was eradicated in the United States after the vaccine was introduced in 1963. In recent years, however, the viral disease has returned from New York to California . and sickened hundreds.
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Clark County in Washington has a vaccination rate of 78 percent, well below the level needed to protect people with compromised immune systems or who can not get vaccinated because of medical problems or because they are very young.
Disinformation is circulating on social media, said Dr. Alan Melnick, director of public health for Clark County.
"What makes me wake up at night is eventually having a child dying from this completely preventable situation," he said. "It's still out there, despite being unmasked, that the measles vaccine results in autism. That does not make sense."
Before mass vaccination, 400 to 500 people in the United States died of measles every year, 50,000 people were hospitalized and 4,000 people developed brain swelling that can cause deafness, Melnick said. One to three cases out of every thousand are fatal, he said.
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People may have been exposed to the disease at about four dozen locations, including Portland International Airport and the Portland Trail Blazers game, officials said.
They announced on Monday that others might have been infected at the popular Oregon Science and Industry Museum in Portland and a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the community of Vancouver, Washington.
31 of the confirmed patients had not been vaccinated against measles. The vaccination status of the other four that were infected is unknown.
The vaccine has been part of routine childhood vaccines for decades, and measles was declared eliminated in the US in 2000. But measles is still a major problem in other parts of the world, and travelers infected abroad can bring the virus back and scatter causing periodic outbreaks.
Last year, there were 17 outbreaks and about 350 cases of measles in the United States.
Authorities are not yet sure where the northwest outbreak began. The first known patient sought medical care on Dec. 31, but it is not known whether other people may have become ill before then and have not sought treatment.
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Children receive the first vaccine between 12 and 15 months of age and the second vaccine between the ages of 4 and 6 years. One vaccine provides 93 percent immunity against measles, and two doses provide 97 percent protection.
But the vaccine is less effective in people under one year and is not usually given to children.
Jocelyn Smith is terrified of her youngest son, who is 11 months old, going to get measles. They live in Camas, Washington, where at least one infected person has spent time infectious.
Smith has an appointment to vaccinate the child as soon as he is eligible – on the day following that of 1.
"I have not been taking the baby in public for 10 days. I'm so scared," she said. "Everyone's on the inside."
The virus, spread by coughing or sneezing, can remain in the air for up to two hours in an isolated space. 90 percent of those who have not been vaccinated will be able to get measles, health officials said.
Those who may have been exposed should pay attention to the initial symptoms of high fever, malaise and red eyes, followed by a rash that starts in the head and down the body.
Online: Measles Research in Clark County