Two Washington state children brought an unwelcome surprise — the measles virus — with them on a trip to Hawaii in January, according to the island state’s epidemiologist.
Washington health officials warned their Hawaii counterparts that the family visiting from the continental United States had been exposed to the deadly virus amid an outbreak infecting dozens in Washington’s Clark County, just north of Portland, Oregon, the Oregonian reports.
Hawaii state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said health workers went to see the family on the Big Island and told them they would have to be quarantined in the remote home they were staying in — unless they could demonstrate they had been vaccinated, the Oregonian reported. Lab tests confirmed the kids developed the virus during their trip to the island.
“Basically we would check in with them and just make sure they were adhering to quarantine,” Park said, adding that the kids recovered and weren’t contagious at the airport, according to the Oregonian. “They are gone, thankfully.”
Park sent a medical advisory to health providers throughout the state Jan. 16 saying that “although the visitors were advised to remain isolated and likelihood of exposure to others is low, providers should be aware the period of infectivity while in Hawaii ranged from Jan. 4–13,” the Honolulu Star Advertiser reports.
She also warned doctors to watch for patients with “rash illness and consider and report potential measles infection especially in unimmunized persons,” according to the Star Advertiser.
Hawaii allowed the infected visitors to leave five days after the onset of measles, which can be spread to others four days before and four days after the rash begins, according to the Oregonian.
“They really didn’t have a chance to go much of anywhere,” Park said of the visiting, quarantined family, according to the Oregonian.
A larger than average percentage of children don’t have required vaccines in Clark County, which is the epicenter of the outbreak, according to a Washington Post analysis. That’s resulted in 36 reported measles cases so far in Clark County, one in King County and one case in Oregon’s Multnomah County, which includes Portland. The Oregon case is linked to the outbreak in Clark County, health officials said.
Measles leads to potentially life-threatening pneumonia in 1 in 20 infected children and is “so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Washington declared a state of emergency last week to better handle the ongoing outbreak, the Tri-Cities Herald reported.
“Measles is a highly contagious infectious disease that can be fatal in small children,” Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said, according to the Herald, adding that the outbreak “creates an extreme public health risk that may quickly spread to other counties.”
The virus has mostly infected kids under 10, according to the Associated Press.
“What keeps me up at night is eventually having a child die from this completely preventable situation,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County public health director, according to AP. “It’s still out there, even though it’s been debunked, that the measles vaccine results in autism. That’s nonsense.”
Measles-infected people went to Portland International Airport, the city’s IKEA and local sports games, raising the risk of contagion, the Herald reported.
But there’s an easy and safe way to avoid infection, according to health experts.
“The message that we give to people is, please immunize your children. Please take those steps. It’s important,” Rick Dawson of the Benton-Franklin Health District said, according to the Herald.