Since March, there have been at least 44 cases of measles reported from British Columbia. Cases have also been reported from King County, with other potential cases under investigation.
The measles outbreak is thought to have arrived here with at least two foreign visitors during the Winter Olympics. What most of these cases have in common is that those infected had not been immunized or under-immunized; they have had only 1 measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccine. Most cases in the United States are the result of exposure to children adopted from overseas or from travelers who haven’t been immunized returning from a trip. Health care providers have been alerted to look for possible measles cases.
Children can get the MMR vaccine from their primary care physicians. The first dose usually is to children when they’re 1 year to 15 months old, followed by a booster when they’re ages 4 to 6, before they start school.
Adults who have not been immunized can check with their doctors. This is wise if you are traveling out of the country, including to Canada. Five pharmacies in Thurston County are set up to give vaccinations (call first) – Tim’s Pharmacy in Yelm; Sav-on Pharmacy in the Tumwater Albertson’s; Fred Meyer pharmacies in Lacey and Tumwater; and the Safeway Pharmacy in Tumwater. The Evergreen State College Health Center offers vaccines to registered students. Group Health Cooperative has travel vaccines for members. The Thurston County Travel Clinic website includes an up-to-date list with phone numbers. The list is at tiny.cc/7iro6.
How do I know I have measles?
The first symptoms appear about 10 to 14 days after exposure. It starts with a runny nose, watery red eyes (sensitive to light), coughing and increasing high fever for three to four days. When the fever “breaks,” a raised, red rash starts on the face and spreads down the body and out to the arms and legs. The rash usually lasts four to seven days.
Can it be serious?
A few people have serious problems: About one out of every 10 children with measles also get an ear infection, and up to one out of 20 get pneumonia. About one out of 1,000 get encephalitis, and one or two out of 1,000 die.
How does it spread from person to person?
Measles is easily spread by droplets in the air and can remain infectious once it lands on a surface for up to two hours.
How long will I be contagious, and what should I do?
People with measles are contagious from four days before the rash breaks out until at least four days after the rash begins. If you think you have measles, go to your primary care provider with another person who is not sick.
If I have been exposed, when will I get sick?
A person who hasn’t been vaccinated against measles can become sick and get symptoms about 10 days after being exposed to the disease. The illness can last one to two weeks.
I had measles as a child, can I get it again?
No. If you were born before 1956, you likely had measles as a child.
Want to read more on the Web? I recommend the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website for up-to-date accurate information. It’s at tiny.cc/a32zn.
Diana T. Yu is the health officer for Thurston and Mason counties.