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King County woman diagnosed with first measles in WA this year

A King County woman has been diagnosed with measles, the first case reported this year in the state. She was not vaccinated against measles, officials said.

City and county health officials are investigating how the disease may have spread since she arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport just after noon on Wednesday.

Health officials say anyone who was at Sea-Tac gate B6 and baggage claim carousel 04 between 12:26 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Wednesday or at Providence Swedish First Hill’s emergency department between 2 p.m. and 4:55 p.m. on Friday may have been exposed to the virus, which can remain in the air for up to two hours.

“Measles is highly contagious and if you don’t have immunity, you can get it just by being in a room where a person with measles has been,” Dr. Eric Chow, Communicable Disease Chief for Public Health in Seattle & King County said in a press release.

The airborne respiratory disease is considered among the most contagious diseases on the planet for unvaccinated people and can cause a fever, rash, and red, watery eyes. It is particularly dangerous for children under 5, adults over age 20, immunocompromised individuals, and pregnant people. Severe symptoms include pneumonia, ear infections, diarrhea and inflammation of the brain — or encephalitis — and death. Infection can also make people more susceptible to other maladies.

King County officials said anyone potentially exposed to the virus at the airport or hospital earlier in the week should check their vaccination status and call a healthcare provider if symptoms develop. Individuals should notify the clinic or hospital in advance if they want to be checked for measles, officials said.

In the spring of 2019, Washington experienced two measles outbreaks with a total of 90 cases, 16 of which were in King County, the most cases concentrated in the state since 1990.

A two-part vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella is very effective, health officials said, with a 97 percent immunity rate for the completed course.

The measles vaccine was first authorized in the U.S. in 1963 and world health officials estimate it saved over 17 million lives been 2000 and 2015 alone.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has led to widespread concern about the disease’s resurgence due to refocused public health attention on the coronavirus and a rise in anti-vaccination sentiment, leading to dropping rates of kindergarteners vaccinated against the disease in the U.S. over the past two years. A record 40 million children worldwide did not receive the vaccine in 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have below 90 percent vaccination from measles among kindergarteners, and there have been recent outbreaks in two of those states, Ohio and Minnesota, the Washington Post reported earlier this month.

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