Lane County Public Health (LCPH) has issued a general health alert after 22 cases of measles had been confirmed in Southwest Washington as of Tuesday — with one confirmed case in Portland last Friday.
The department is encouraging the public and medical professionals to watch for symptoms and take steps to reduce the virus’s spread.
Individuals with confirmed cases were reported by LCPH to have traveled throughout the Portland Metro area during their communicable period, prompting health officials to issue a warning down the I-5 corridor.
“Given the proximity of these cases to Lane County, the amount of travel that happens daily between us and the greater Portland Metro area, and the particularly contagious nature of measles, we are concerned about the risk of exposure,” said Lane County Senior Public Health Officer Dr. Patrick Luedtke in a press release.
Clark County Public Health has so far confirmed at least 35 cases this year alone. The county is located directly across the Columbia River from Portland, including Vancouver, Wash.
Measles is a highly contagious virus which can cause a high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. Two or three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth, an early sign of infection. This is followed by a rash of flat, red spots which cover the body and are accompanied by a high fever.
The rash and fever will typically run their course after a few days, though in rare cases it can cause encephalitis (infection of the brain), pneumonia, and low birth weight in babies born to infected women.
Because the virus lives in the nose and throat of an infected person, it can spread to others though coughing and sneezing.
“We actually don’t have any confirmed cases here in Lane County,” said Jason Davis, Lane County Health and Human Services Public Information Officer. “Our efforts right now are really preventative in nature.”
But because of the highly contagious nature of the virus, Lane County’s threshold for declaring an outbreak is a single confirmed case.
“If we even get one case, we’ll declare an outbreak,” said Davis. “And we’ll send out a press release confirming that case and also letting people know where that person has been in the last two weeks.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.”
Those infected with measles can spread the virus four days before and four days after the rash appears.
As such, it is recommended that individuals who display symptoms call their local health authority before visiting a doctor’s office or hospital.
Protection against measles can be substantially increased through vaccination. The MMR vaccine, which includes vaccination against the viruses mumps and rubella, is generally administered to children once between nine and 15 months of age and again before reaching six years old.
MMR vaccine refusal, however, has been on the rise over the last decade.
Controversy surrounding a 1998 report which linked the MMR vaccine to autism and later celebrity endorsement of the claim has been the genesis of a rise in skepticism about the safety of the vaccine, though this opinion has been widely rejected by the CDC, the National Academy of Medicine and other major research institutions.
Medical authorities have associated the phenomenon of vaccine refusal with increased risk for those who are not vaccinated as well as those who are.
Among the 35 cases of measles in Clark County this year, 34 were reportedly unimmunized.
The LCPH alert comes as visitation limitations were implemented on Friday by PeaceHealth’s Eugene hospital Sacred Heart Medical Center at Riverbend.
The hospital has restricted visitation to labor and delivery, mother-baby and neonatal intensive care units, citing the rise in measles and influenza cases.
Visitations are restricted for individuals under the age of 21 or those who demonstrate any of the following symptoms:
As with measles, the spread and effect of the influenza virus can be mitigated with up-to-date vaccinations. Washing hands regularly and covering one’s mouth when coughing or sneezing can also help prevent its spread.
Sick individuals are encouraged to stay home from work or school.
Restrictions on hospital visitation have yet to make it as far as Cottage Grove.
“We don’t have any visitation restrictions in place at Cottage Grove Community Medical Center,” said Catherine Kroll, Director for Infection Prevention at PeaceHealth. “We’re evaluating the situation daily and would make decisions about visitation based on what type of spread is happening in the community.”
Information on exposure locations and the measles investigation in Clark County can be found online at www.clark.wa.gov/public-health/measles-investigation.