Issaquah High School reopens Friday after measles scare
It’s business as usual at Issaquah High School Friday now that enough teachers and staff have proven they’ve had their measles shot.
It’s now a waiting game at Issaquah High School, and at Bothell’s North Creek High School, to see if there are any more cases of the measles following exposure to the virus. Local health officials say the current measles outbreak in Western Washington could linger for weeks, with more cases to come.
This comes after a staff member was diagnosed with measles, as part of a larger outbreak that’s taken hold in Western Washington. This latest measles outbreak has raised concerns over school vaccinations, but not necessarily for students, rather, teachers and staff.
Seattle-King County Public Health Director Dr. Jeff Duchin says that while the state requires students to be immunized, there are no regulations for school staff.
“There are no laws that require staff to be vaccinated, however we do strongly encourage that,” he said, further arguing that districts furlough staff who are not vaccinated.
That assessment is backed up by Dr. Kathy Lofy with the Washington State Department of Health.
“Children who are in daycares and children who are in schools are required to show documentation of immunity to a number of different diseases,” Lofy said. “But there is currently no requirement for staff in our state law.”
Lofy would like lawmakers to work on regulations for staff.
“Staff at school are part of that school environment,” she said. “We also know that diseases can quickly spread in schools. So I definitely think it’s something that we should be considering.”
Measles exposure at schools
Issaquah High School closed Thursday after a confirmed case of measles was reported at the school. An infected staff member was at the school for a number of days in early May. Officials spent Thursday verifying the immunization status of its staff members.
The Issaquah school staff member is one of the five measles cases recently tracked down by the Washington State Department of Health. The school noted in a news release that all of its students have proof of immunization, and that Thursday’s check was limited to staff.
KIRO 7 reports that anyone around the high school between May 6-9 could have been exposed to the measles virus. To be hired by the school district, staff members must confirm the dates of any immunizations. The staff member at Issaquah High School worked there while infected, but did not realize they were ill.
Another case was identified as a student at North Creek High School in Bothell. Check locations of possible exposure from that case here.
“That high school has a great vaccination record — 98 percent of the high school students have both MMR doses,” said Mark Beatty with Snohomish County Public Health.
Beatty says that vaccinations of school staff are not tracked.
“It’s expected that the teachers have their vaccination records available, so in a situation like this, that can be easily accessed,” he said. “But like the students, if a teacher has not been vaccinated at all, they would end up having to be excluded.”
Measles in Washington
Four of the five measles cases currently found in Washington were found in adults. One case was fully immunized, one was not, and the other three are still under investigation.
Two of the new cases were located in King County. One — a student at a Bothell high school — was identified in Snohomish County. Another was in Pierce County.
As of May 10, there are 839 confirmed measles cases in the United States. The exact sources of infections in Washington are not known. All the new cases recently spent time at Sea-Tac Airport, however. Dr. Duchin says that travel is a primary factor in the spread of diseases.
“Unfortunately, I am not surprised that we are seeing cases of measles in King County,” Duchin said. “Measles is resurging nationally and around the globe.”
“It’s resurgent, we’ve poked a sleeping bear and measles is going to be circulating in the US and globally for quite a while now,” he said.
Given the current state of measles outbreaks, Duchin says people should expect more cases to emerge.
“Based on the cases that have been diagnosed through today, we may see new cases appearing through June 1, maybe a little bit later that that,” he said.
In early May, health officials warned of the threat of a potential measles outbreak, after a Canadian man with the illness traveled to Seattle. The man was said to have visited several popular tourist spots around the city, as well as Sea-Tac Airport.
A months-long outbreak in Clark County totaling 71 confirmed measles cases was officially declared over in late April.
Symptoms for measles typically set in roughly seven to 21 days after initial exposure. It’s contagious for around four days before a rash presents, as well as four days after a rash appears.
The highest risk for infection generally occurs in children under five years old, adults over 20 years old, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems from drugs or underlying diseases, and anyone not vaccinated against the measles virus.
Health officials urge anyone who might suspect they’ve been infected to contact their local health provider, and to not go into any hospital or clinic without first calling ahead to intimate that they want to be evaluated for measles.