Dozens of people have been infected in a measles outbreak that is currently spreading throughout parts of the Pacific Northwest, prompting Washington Governor Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency in all counties on Friday.
“Measles is a highly contagious disease that can be fatal in small children,” Inslee said in a statement Friday. “Almost everyone who is not immune will get measles if they are exposed to the virus.” The declaration will funnel the state’s resources into tackling the problem head-on and doing “everything reasonably possible to assist affected political subdivisions,” according to Inslee’s proclamation.
The most recent figures available from the Washington State Department of Health as of Saturday indicate the number of confirmed cases has since risen to 32 across two counties since Jan. 1, with the majority of cases being in children 10 years old and younger. According to figures from Clark County Public Health, 27 of those infected in the county had not gotten a measles vaccine. One person has been hospitalized in the outbreak.
At least one case linked to the Washington outbreak had been reported in Oregon’s Multnomah County as of Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that symptoms typically surface a week to two weeks after an individual becomes infected with measles, which is why people are unlikely to know they’re infected right away and may spread it themselves. Initial symptoms include fever, cough, watery eyes, and a runny nose; a blotchy red rash will typically spread to all over the infected individual’s body roughly three to five days later. Before a rash breaks out, the infected will likely experience Koplik Spots, or white spots on the inside of their mouth.
The specific source of the outbreak is not currently known, but the Oregonian reported that low immunization rates in the area meant that it was only a matter of time before a preventable outbreak like this one took hold in the Pacific Northwest. The Associated Press characterized the Northwest as a “hot spot” for anti-vaccination sentiment, adding that both states where the outbreak has been observed “allow vaccine exemptions for personal reasons.”
Clark County Public Health Officer Alan Melnick told the Oregonian that if vaccination rates don’t go up, the area could be seeing more incidents like this one moving forward.
“The bottom line is, there’s no surprise we’re seeing this right now,” Melnick said.
Clarification: Added context about anti-vaccination sentiment in the Pacific Northwest.