Los Angeles (AFP) - A state of emergency was declared on Friday in the western US state of Washington following a measles outbreak that has affected more than two dozen people, the majority of them children.
The disease was declared eliminated in the US in 2000 but has since made a comeback that is tied to imported cases and the rise of the anti-vaccine movement.
"Measles is a highly contagious infectious disease that can be fatal in small children," Washington Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement. "The existence of more than 26 confirmed cases in the state of Washington creates an extreme public health risk that may quickly spread to other counties."
The outbreak began near Portland, Oregon, at the start of the year and quickly spread to nearby Clark County and King County, both in Washington.
Health officials have warned that people infected with the disease had visited schools, churches, a dentist's office, a Costco store, an Ikea store and the Portland airport.
The majority of those infected are children, many of whom have not been immunized against the disease, officials said.
‘It will take off like a wildfire’: The unique dangers of the Washington state measles outbreak
VANCOUVER, Wash. — Amber Gorrow is afraid to leave her house with her infant son because she lives at the epicenter of Washington state’s worst measles outbreak in more than two decades. Born eight weeks ago, Leon is too young to get his first measles shot, putting him at risk for the highly contagious respiratory virus, which can be fatal in small children.
Gorrow also lives in a community where she said being anti-vaccine is as acceptable as being vegan or going gluten free. Almost a quarter of kids in Clark County, Wash., a suburb of Portland, Ore., go to school without measles, mumps and rubella immunizations, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) recently declared a state of emergency amid concern that things could rapidly spin out of control.
Measles outbreaks have sprung up in nine other states this winter, but officials are particularly alarmed about the one in Clark County because of its potential to go very big, very quickly.
The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the nation’s most vocal and organized anti-vaccination activists. That movement has helped drive down child immunizations in Washington, as well as in neighboring Oregon and Idaho, to some of the lowest rates in the country, with as many as 10.5 percent of kindergartners statewide in Idaho unvaccinated for measles. That is almost double the median rate nationally.
Libertarian-leaning lawmakers, meanwhile, have bowed to public pressure to relax state laws to exempt virtually any child from state vaccination requirements whose parents object. Three states allow only medical exemptions; most others also permit religious exemptions. And 17, including Washington, Oregon and Idaho, allow what they call “philosophical” exemptions, meaning virtually anyone can opt out of the requirements.