August 19, 2019

As kids pick out new notebooks, new shoes and backpacks, health officials ask parents to check one more thing off their back-to-school lists: the measles vaccine and other required immunizations.

So far this year in Oregon, 23 people have contracted the virus in three outbreaks. Most recently health officials are responding to a new outbreak of measles in Clackamas and Multnomah counties, where authorities have identified nine cases since the beginning of July. That includes two cases confirmed since the Oregon Health Authority updated their numbers Aug. 14. 

None of the nine individuals were immunized. All have remained at home while contagious and are in regular communication with health officials. They have posed no risk to the public.

This year’s total is the most since 1991, when the state identified nearly 100 cases of measles.

The numbers mirror a national and even global trend: According to the Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention, there have been more than 1,000 cases of measles confirmed in 30 states so far this year; the greatest number reported since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.

Most of the people diagnosed with measles this year in Oregon have been children, half of them old enough to go to school. They were kept home from classes, sports and social events while they were able to spread the disease.

Multnomah County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines urges families to keep their children safe and make sure they are up-to-date on the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.

“Measles is a serious illness, people are miserable for a week and very contagious while sick,” said Vines. “The vaccine is safe and effective; it keeps kids healthy and in school. Fully vaccinated kids also protect their siblings, friends and teachers.”

Measles spreads through the air after a person with measles coughs or sneezes, and the virus can also linger in the air for up to two hours after someone who is infectious has left.

Measles causes a runny nose, cough, and a high fever followed by a whole-body rash. Less-frequent,but worrisome, complications include permanent hearing loss, blindness, pneumonia, and life-threatening brain infection. 

“A measles case in school can be dangerous to unvaccinated pregnant women and medically fragile children and adults,” Vines said. If someone at school comes down with measles, students who are not vaccinated and exposed to the virus have to stay out of school for 21 days. 

“That means missing sports, parties and class time,” she said. “And that may be a burden on working parents who have to find childcare.” 

Immunizations are among the safest way to stop the spread of disease and keep children in school. That’s why the state requires children who go to daycares and schools to get vaccines to protect against polio, hepatitis, and whooping cough, among other infections. 

If you have questions about vaccinations, please contact your primary care physician or attend one of these parent-led free informational community workshops.