Measles outbreak finds its way into Whatcom County

Published on Wed, Apr 2, 2014 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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Four cases of measles have been confirmed in Whatcom County, and have been linked to the outbreak of measles in the Fraser Valley East, just north of the U.S./Canada border that occurred in early March.

As of March 26, British Columbia health officials have confirmed nearly 300 cases of measles in the Fraser Valley community. The majority of the cases are related to a religious community and school, the Netherlands Reformed Congregation, that has a very high number of unvaccinated children, Whatcom County Health Officer Greg Stearns said. “All but two of the cases in the Fraser Valley are related to that community,” Stearns said. “The two who weren’t live in close proximity to the others.”

While there has been no significant spread of measles outside of the Fraser Valley East communities, one Whatcom County family with ties to that community has contracted the illness and remains in isolation. “We’re working with them to identify everyone they have come in contact with, and following up with symptomatic individuals,” Stearns said.

The school’s immunization rate was under 5 percent.

The health department will be continuing to monitor the situation and to provide vaccine for those who are not immune to measles. 

Because of the outbreak, Whatcom County Health Department is urging residents who travel to make sure they have all of their immunizations up to date before crossing the border. 

Measles is a highly contagious disease that is spread by respiratory and airborne droplets. It can remain in the air for up to two hours after the infectious person has left the room. Measles cases are contagious from four days before to four days after their rash begins. It can take from seven to 21 days for someone to come down with measles after they have been exposed to the virus. 

“Someone can be contagious from the onset of symptoms,” Stearns said. “And the symptoms begin like the common cold, with a runny nose and possibly conjunctivitis and then three to four days later, they’ll develop a rash near their hairline and a fever of 101ºF or more. That creates a 7 to 8 day period where someone with measles is contagious.”

Stearns said that there is a 90 percent chance that someone who is unvaccinated and exposed to measles will contract the disease. “It has a very aggressive attack rate,” he said.

Although the health department does not anticipate that measles will become a problem in Whatcom County, they have asked health care professionals to please be on the lookout for this disease. 

If you or a family member have had a fever and have now developed a rash, notify your health care provider about it before you go to their office or the emergency department. 

It is important to wear a mask and try not to spread this virus especially in a setting where there are other people. 

The best protection against measles is vaccination, the health department said. Two doses of the Measles, Mumps, Rubella vaccine (also called MMR) is very effective against this disease. “We know that the vaccine is 98 to 99 percent effective in keeping people protected,” Stearns said. “We hope for a 90 percent vaccination rate, what we call ‘community immunity,’ as a protection for those who don’t get immunized, have an immune deficiency or don’t respond to the vaccine.” The health department recommends that you stay home if you are ill and especially if you suspect that you have measles. If you have been exposed to someone with measles and you are not immune to this disease, you may be asked to stay away from others for up to 21 days after your exposure.