(AP) – Public health officials trying to contain a measles outbreak in the northwest of the United States have warned people to vaccinate their children on Monday and worry that it may take months to stop the highly contagious viral disease due to a lower than normal rate of vaccination at the epicenter of the crisis.
The epidemic near Portland has suffered from 35 people in Oregon and Washington since January 1, with 11 more cases. Most patients are children under 10 and one child is hospitalized.
Health officials say the epidemic is an example of why it is important to vaccinate against measles that had been disposed of in the United States after the vaccine was introduced in 1963. In recent years, however, viral disease has reappeared from New York to California. and hurt hundreds.
Clark County, Washington, has a 78 percent vaccination rate well below the level required to protect people with a compromised immune system or who can not be vaccinated because of medical problems or because they are too young.
Disinformation circulating in social media, says Dr Alan Melnik, Clark County Director for Public Health.
"What keeps me in the night is ultimately to die a child from this completely preventable situation," he said. "It's still there, even though it's debased that the measles vaccine leads to autism. This is nonsense.
Prior to mass vaccination, 400 to 500 people in the United States die of measles every year, 50,000 are hospitalized, and 4,000 people develop swelling of the brain, which may cause deafness, Melnik said. One to three in every 1,000 cases are fatal, he said.
People may have been exposed to the disease in about four dozen places, including the Portland International Airport and Portland Paths, as officials say.
On Monday, they announced that other people could be infected at the popular Oregon Science and Industry Museum in Portland and the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Vancouver, Washington.
Thirty-one of the confirmed patients were not vaccinated against measles. The vaccination status of four others that have been infected is unknown.
The vaccine has been part of routine children's shots for decades and measles have been declared eliminated in the US in 2000. But morbitis is still a major problem in other parts of the world, and infected travelers can return the virus and spread it, causing periodic outbreaks.
Last year there were 17 outbreaks and about 350 cases of measles in the United States.
Officials are still not sure where the Northwest burst began. The first known patient sought medical attention on December 31, but it is not known whether other people had previously had illness and had not sought treatment.
Children receive the first vaccine aged between 12 and 15 months and the second vaccine aged between 4 and 6 years. One vaccine provides 93% immunity from measles, and two shots provide 97% protection.
But the vaccine is less effective in those under one year and is usually not given to infants.
Jocelyn Smith is terrified that her youngest son, who is 11 months old, will get measles. They live in Camas, Washington, where at least one infected person has spent time while he was infected.
Smith has an appointment to vaccinate his son as soon as he is admitted, one day after he has one year.
"I have not taken the baby in public for 10 days, I'm just so scared," she said. – Everyone stays inside.
The virus that spreads through coughing or sneezing can remain in the air for up to two hours in an isolated space. Nine percent of people exposed to measles who have not been vaccinated will receive it.
Those who may have been exposed should observe the early symptoms of fever, malaise, and red eyes followed by a rash that begins on the head and moves down the body.