Measles

Measles isn’t just a small rash. It’s a highly contagious viral respiratory illness that can be dangerous, especially for infants and young children.

WASILLA—An unvaccinated teenager from the Kenai Peninsula, who recently traveled out of state to Arizona via Seattle, was diagnosed with measles on July 16, making Alaska the 29th state with a confirmed case of measles in 2019.

“Fortunately we haven’t had any new cases,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said.

Despite the good news of limited exposure, there is still cause for concern, according to McLaughlin. He said the incubation period can range from seven to 21 days. He said the infectious period occurs four days before and after rashes and other noticeable symptoms arise.

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“The fact we’ve already gone through one full incubation period, it’s a very good sign that — knock on wood— we’re not going to have any infectious transmissions from this case,” McLaughlin said.

The second incubation period ends on Aug. 27. McLaughlin said officials are waiting until then to declare the outbreak over. He said this outbreak, however limited so far, is still worth everyone’s attention and should serve as a wakeup call.

“From my perspective, this case is a very important reminder of how easily measles can spread from the Lower 48 or people travelling abroad into Alaska,” McLaughlin said.

With measles, one case is considered to be an outbreak because it’s a highly contagious and serious disease. McLaughlin said with another school year around the corner, now is an especially important time for individuals and families to make sure their caught up on their MMR vaccines.

McLaughlin said the recommended MMR vaccination schedule asks that all children receive their first dose 12 to 15 months of age, then a follow-up dose at four to six years old. He said those two doses typically protect people for lifetime.

“It’s got a high effectiveness. So, after one dose of the vaccine, 93 percent of people are immune to measles for life and after two does about 97 percent of people are immune for life,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said the MMR is not only effective but it’s also very safe. What isn’t safe, however, is the growing number of parents who opt out of vaccinating their children, he said.

Like many health officials around the country, McLaughlin directly correlates the return of measles and unsettling rates of exposure to non-vaccinators. He said that vaccination is the most important and effective means of measles prevention.

“I highly recommend that all parents of young children get their children immunized according to the national immunized schedule,” McLaughlin said. “The No. 1 way to prevent measles is to make sure you and your children are up to date on measles vaccines.”

The Alaska State of Epidemiology recently released an Epidemiology bulletin to address the issue of vaccine hesitancy. This bulletin contains an update on vaccine hesitancy as reported by Alaskan mothers with three year old children.

According to the bulletin, the Matanuska Susitna Borough has higher rates of vaccine hesitancy than Anchorage and other areas around the state.

From the start of the year, 1,182 cases of measles have been confirmed in 30 states this year, according to McLaughlin.

“Each year around the world an estimated 10 million people get measles, and about 110,000 of them die from it,” the state epidemiology website says.

McLaughlin said the U.S. is currently experiencing the largest measles outbreak since 1992 and it’s driven by under-vaccination. Measles is now a national epidemic despite being declared “eliminated” in 2000.

“The majority of cases are among people who are not vaccinated against measles,” McLaughlin said.

Not all under-vaccination is necessarily intentional, according to McLaughlin. He said less common factors include lack of access to health care but ultimately, it’s those people with vaccine hesitancy who are driving the numbers.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” McLaughlin said. “We have an uphill battle to fight misinformation spread on the Internet.”

Measles isn’t just an American problem right now, McLaughlin said — it’s spreading across the globe.

“All it takes is one airplane ride to bring measles back into Alaska,” McLaughlin said.

For additional information regarding school immunization requirements, visit: dhss.alaska.gov/dph/wcfh/Pages/school/Back-to-School.aspx

To learn more about the measles outbreak and statewide resources, visit: dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/measles/default.aspx

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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