The pool of unvaccinated children is fueling measles outbreak

TUMWATER, Wash. - With the measles outbreak declared a state of emergency in Washington state, health experts are feverishly working to contain the viral illness.

Health experts say measles is one of, if not the most contagious virus out there.

As of Monday there 35 confirmed cases in Clark County and one case in King County. Health officials are looking at a number of other suspected cases.

Now 25 of the 36 people affected are 10 years old or younger. At least 31 of those sick were not vaccinated.

“Measles are so contagious that if you are not immunized against it you will almost for sure get it if you are exposed to someone who has the disease,” Danielle Koenig with Washington Department of Health said.

The airborne illness is so contagious that someone could contract the measles even two hours after a sick person leaves an area.

Experts say the reason for the growing number of measles cases is directly correlated to the unvaccinated population.

“We want everybody to be at 95 percent coverage or higher. Anytime you fall below the 95 percent coverage level diseases can spread a lot more easily,” Koenig said.

Clark County, the heart of the measles outbreak, has a vaccination rate of only 84.5 percent for kindergarteners when it comes to the measles.

Counties like King are at 91 percent, Snohomish 90.2 percent and Pierce 92.1 percent.

“There are people who are resistant to getting vaccinated,” Koenig said.

Washington state has one of the lowest vaccination rates when it comes to measles.

States like Virginia had a 97.6 percent rate for measles while Washington state is at 88.5 percent.

“Some of the challenges for Washington state is that there are a lot of rural issues, they may not be opposed to vaccines but they just have a problem getting to the doctor,” Koenig said.

But for those people who choose not to vaccinate their kids, one state lawmaker is trying to change that. Rep. Paul Harris, who represents Clark County, says his bill in the House is aiming to get personal exemptions off the table only when it comes to the measles. He says his bill will only allow medical exemptions.

If his bill passes, any parent who sends their children to public school will not be allowed to use a personal exemption to not vaccinate their kids.

“There are 18 states that still allow for personal exemptions, so we are by far in the minority. Many state courts have weighed in and the right to practice a religion, the right to choose, does not include the liberty to expose a community or a child to a disease,” Harris said.

The death rate is very low for measles, but state health experts are more worried about serious complications from it. Neurological disorders and swelling, deafness and compromised immune systems are some of the problems people could face even years after recovering from the measles.

Adults can be immunized for the measles if they did not receive the two shots needed as a child.

The MMR vaccine covers measles, mumps and rubella. The first MMR dose is recommended at 12 months, the second at 4 to 6 years old.

The first vaccine gives you a 93 percent protection against the measles and the second dose raises the effectiveness to 97 percent.

If you feel like you may have the measles, make sure you call the doctor before you go in for a visit so they can protect others from contracting the viral illness.