Washington measles outbreak prevalent in unvaccinated kids

Jan 25, 2019, 2:11 PM
Measles vaccine...

There are now 31 confirmed cases of measles in Washington state, including 30 in Southwest Washington’s Clark County. A Seattle-area man also got sick after visiting Clark County.

RELATED: Doctors worry measles outbreak will get worse, spread

Outbreaks are troubling to doctors like Melissa Genualdi of Swedish Medical, because, as she notes, preventing measles and other diseases is simple: Get vaccinated.

“Vaccines are really important to keep kids and other people healthy and safe. I’ve seen what a lot of these disease do to some children and it can be very devastating,” she told KIRO Radio.

Measles, for instance, can cause serious neurological problems, blindness, and death, but is also largely preventable. That being so, the vast majority of cases in the current outbreak are in children who were not vaccinated.

The Washington Post found nearly 7 percent of kids in Clark County are skipping shots for religious or personal reasons. The national average is just 2 percent.

Fear can also deter people from getting shots. A spike in measles cases in the US in 2017 stemmed largely from a community in Minnesota, who skipped vaccines on purpose over concerns about autism.

“I’ll be abundantly clear on this: There have been numerous, excellent randomized control trials those are kind of our gold standard studies out there that do not show any connection whatsoever between autism and any vaccine,” said John Lynch, an infectious disease doctor at Harborview and UW Medicine.

You also can’t catch a disease from a vaccination itself. Vaccines contain only dead or inert forms of the illness that teach your immune cells to recognize and remember the disease.

“And these memory cells just sort of stay in the background and if you’re exposed to say the flu virus your body can now mount a really large immune response because it’s ‘seen this’ before,” Doctor Robert Klem, with Swedish Medical, explained.

So, why do you sometimes feel crummy after a shot? Klem says it’s your immune system being triggered.

RELATED: Measles case in King County came in contact with hundreds

“So you may get a few swollen glands, you may feel a little fatigued, a little punky, maybe even a low grade fever, but that’s just your body’s immune system sort of getting activated,” he described.

Doctors say vaccines don’t prevent illness 100 percent of the time, but if you do get a disease, it will likely be much less severe than without the protective vaccine. More than that, when you’re vaccinated, it actually protects others.

“It takes a fairly large percentage — probably about 80 percent if not greater — of a community to be immunized to prevent that illness from penetrating into the community,” said Klem.

That’s key. The Washington State Department of health says in most parts of our state, vaccination rates among kindergartners are consistently in the mid to high 80s, so outbreaks  here are not common, but can still happen.

Experts say it would take a 95 percent vaccination rate to eradicate measles, for instance, just as smallpox was eliminated in 1980.

As a mom, Melissa Genualdi vaccinates her young children, and as a doctor with Swedish medical, she’s talked with parents who might believe the myths about vaccines.

“Most people have reasons why and once you find out why, you can help educate them, [and] give them some resources,” she said. “There’s lots of false claims out there with vaccines and there’s lots of different beliefs and what parents think. So I think just finding out why, and then just educating them.”

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Washington measles outbreak prevalent in unvaccinated kids