Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick warned an audience at Washington State University Vancouver last week about the possible return of measles, following an outbreak earlier this year.
On Wednesday, public health officials confirmed one case of measles in an unvaccinated child, marking the return of measles in Clark County.
It came as no surprise to Melnick, who found out about the new case while attending a public health conference in Spokane on Wednesday.
“We still have a large number of people who are unvaccinated in Clark County,” Melnick said in a phone interview. “This will continue to happen.”
Measles is a highly contagious and potentially serious illness caused by a virus. It is spread through the air after a person with measles coughs or sneezes. A person with measles can spread the virus before they show symptoms. The virus also can linger in the air after someone who is infectious has left.
The child, who is between the ages of 1 and 10, had traveled internationally to a country where an outbreak is occurring and returned to Clark County on Nov. 14, according to a statement from Clark County Public Health.
The child visited Portland International Airport and two hospitals while contagious.
Melnick said Public Health was notified about the case by a health provider. Lab testing confirmed measles in the child Wednesday. Melnick declined to identify which country the child visited.
There are currently no suspected measles cases in Clark County. But Public Health must investigate any contact the child has made since returning here.
People who visited the locations listed below may have been exposed to measles. Health officials are advising anyone who may have been exposed and believes they have symptoms of measles to call their health care provider before visiting the medical office to make a plan that avoids exposing others in the waiting room.
Specifically, the child visited:
• Portland International Airport, Concourse E, north end of lower level, including restrooms and baggage claim, from 10:30 a.m. to noon Nov. 14.
• PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, 400 N.E. Mother Joseph Place, Vancouver from 12:45 to 5:05 p.m. Nov. 14.
• Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel, 2801 N. Gantenbein Ave., Portland from 11:50 p.m. Nov. 16 to 4:25 a.m. Nov. 17.
Those who are susceptible and were exposed could develop symptoms from Nov. 18 to Dec. 9.
“This is an unfortunate reminder that measles is only a plane, car, bus or train ride away,” Melnick said in a written statement. “Immunization is the best way to protect yourself and the community from measles.”
Measles symptoms begin with a fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes, followed by a rash that usually begins at the head and spreads to the rest of the body. People are contagious with measles for four days before the rash appears and up to four days after the rash appears.
One dose of the measles vaccine is about 93 percent effective at preventing measles. Two doses are about 97 percent effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Clark County has had 72 confirmed measles cases this year. Earlier this year, Public Health led a monthslong response to a local measles outbreak that sickened 71 people. Public Health declared the outbreak over April 29, after six weeks with no new cases.
Washington spent more than $1 million fighting the measles outbreak earlier this year. Clark County spent more than $864,000 to fight its local outbreak.
“I don’t want to see another outbreak,” Melnick said.
Measles poses the highest risk to people who have not been vaccinated, including infants younger than 12 months. People are likely immune (not susceptible) to measles if they were born before 1957, have a previous measles diagnosis or are up to date on measles vaccines (one dose for children 12 months through 3 years old, two doses in anyone 4 years and older).
Measles can be serious in all age groups. However, children younger than 5 years and adults older than 20 years are more likely to suffer from measles complications. Common complications include ear infection, lung infection and diarrhea. Swelling of the brain is a rare but much more serious complication. Measles may cause pregnant women to give birth prematurely, or have a low-birth-weight baby. For every 1,000 children with measles, one or two will die from the disease.
Anyone with questions about measles infection or the measles vaccine should call their primary care provider or Clark County Public Health at 564-397-8182.