Public health officer: Olympic Peninsula 'dodges a bullet' on measles outbreak in state

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Aggressive control efforts and a little bit of luck helped the state “dodge a bullet” with a recent measles outbreak, the North Olympic Peninsula's public health officer said.

No measles cases were detected in Clallam or Jefferson counties after a large outbreak in southern British Columbia spilled into Western Washington, said Dr. Tom Locke, public health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties.

One Clallam County child had a measles-like rash, but tests confirmed it was not measles.

“I think we can attribute the fact that we didn't see a larger state outbreak partially to the control efforts,” Locke told the Clallam County Board of Health last Tuesday.

“And also, there's just an element of luck that transmission did not occur in these big venues, these big public venues.”

Measles is an extremely contagious viral illness that can cause significant complications in some cases, including pneumonia and swelling of the brain.

It is associated with a cough, sore throat, conjunctivitis and fever, progressing to a generalized rash.

A dozen measles cases were detected early this spring in San Juan, Whatcom and Kitsap counties.

While most transmissions occurred between family members, a Kitsap County man caught measles by spending 45 minutes in a Friday Harbor bar, Locke said.

“The good news with measles is we sort of dodged a bullet in the state,” Locke said.

“We had a number of risk factors for a statewide outbreak going on.”

The state's population is increasingly susceptible to measles because of low vaccination rates and the fact that more and more people were never exposed to it.

Adults born before 1957, when the measles vaccine became available, are presumed to be immune because of past exposure.

“It's the most contagious infectious disease that's known,” Locke said.

“That's why, prior to the advent of the vaccine, virtually everybody got measles.”

Measles is so contagious that transmission can occur two hours after an infected person leaves a room.

After three small clusters of measles appeared in Western Washington, health care providers were urged to provide documentation of immunity.

“Their response was very good,” Locke said.

A doctor or nurse who is exposed to measles and can't provide documentation of immunity is sent home for 21 days whether he or she has had a measles shot or not.

“We really didn't want that happening to surgeons or key personnel in the system,” Locke said.

Health care workers at Olympic Medical Center are 98.3 percent immunized against measles, said Dr. Scott Kennedy, chief medical officer, in a briefing last Wednesday to the hospital board.

“We want to be sure that if there ever were an outbreak that we are immune and that our workforce is intact, and I can report that we will be,” Kennedy said.

“We want to be ready to detect it early, isolate it early so that we can have every chance of avoiding any spread of measles within our institution. Similar to our efforts to prevent flu, we want to be both prepared and ready.”

Locke described a “serious effort” to contain the outbreak in Western Washington.

“A lot of people were vaccinated,” he said. “Anyone who was exposed who was determined to be susceptible was immediately immunized. And that is effective prevention for measles.”

Parents are urged to get their children vaccinated if they haven't already had a measles shot.

The vaccine is available at health care clinics, the Clallam and Jefferson County health departments, and certain pharmacies.

“This is not going to go away,” Locke said.

“We're going to keep getting imported cases until we can successfully get vaccination rates up.”

Information about measles is available on the state Department of Health website at www.doh.wa.gov.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 26. 2014 11:13AM
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