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A measles epidemic is spreading in a Washington county known for not choosing to vaccinate its children, and health officials have declared a public health emergency.
USA TODAY

The measles outbreaks in New York and the state of Washington have public health officials struggling to contain a disease that was eliminated in the United States nearly two decades ago.

The state of Washington has declared a public emergency in the wake of an epidemic in Clark County that has infected at least 53 people, mostly children. Four other cases have been confirmed in the nearby county of Multnomah, Oregon. Another case has been identified in King County, which includes Seattle.

Clark County public health officials have long feared that an outbreak of measles could spread rapidly given the cluster of unvaccinated children in the county.

Nearly one in four nursery school students during the 2017-18 school year did not get all their vaccinations, according to data from the Washington Department of Health. In three schools in the county, over 40% of nursery schools did not receive all the recommended shots before starting school.

"When you have a large number of unimmunized people and you put measles in that population, it's like putting a lit match in a can of gas," said Alan Melnick, Clark County's public health director. "It will spread fairly quickly."

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A measles epidemic in the Pacific Northwest has so far attracted 38 people and has forced some people to change their daily routine. A mother says she will not take her 11-month-old son in public until she gets her measles vaccine at the age of one. (January 30th)
AP

All but 3 states allow non-medical reasons to skip vaccines

In general, Melnick said, public health departments want to immunize up to 95% of the population against measles to create the problem. immunity of the herd. This widespread vaccination protects against the highly contagious virus, which can spread in the air. It also protects people who are unable to get vaccinated because they have other medical conditions.

State laws generally require parents of school-age children to demonstrate vaccination before starting school.

All but three states – California, Mississippi and West Virginia – allow parents to reject vaccinations for non-medical reasons, such as religious or personal beliefs, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

The risk is when there are a large number of children in a single environment, such as a school or church, who are not vaccinated.

"You need a sufficiently high vaccination rate to prevent the spread of measles," Melnick said.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported 79 cases of measles in the United States. Besides Washington and Oregon, cases have been reported in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.

"People do not realize how much it can hurt you"

The New York epidemic has been the largest in the state for decades, said Jill Montag, spokesman for the New York State Department of Health York.

More than 200 cases have been reported in the counties of Rockland and Orange and in four boroughs of Brooklyn since October. The overwhelming majority of these cases were identified last year, but some new cases continue to fall. There have been two dozen in the counties of Rockland and Orange since January 1st. Two Brooklyn neighborhoods reported 3 cases in the last week.

Brooklyn cases are concentrated in the Orthodox Jewish community. The epidemic began when a child who had not been vaccinated was infected on a visit to Israel. Israel is experiencing a major epidemic, according to the New York Department of Health.

New York health officials have excluded thousands of unvaccinated children from 29 schools and kindergartens where other children may have been exposed to the virus. They also launched the vaccination units.

"We will continue our aggressive response on several fronts until it is clear that the epidemic has been contained," said Montag.

There was a wave of parents mostly seeking vaccines for their children in the counties of Clark and Multnomah, officials said.

Dr. Paul Offit, director of the vaccination education center at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, said the parents' refusal to vaccinate allowed the highly contagious disease to return.

In 2015, an overseas traveler infected with measles visited Disneyland, causing an epidemic that spread to several states and infected 147 individuals. In 2017, an outbreak among the Somali-American community of Minnesota infected 75 people, according to the CDC.

"People are not afraid of measles," said Offit. "It is not just that we have largely eliminated these diseases, but we have eliminated the memory of these diseases, people do not realize how much it can make you sick."

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