Poor Idaho vaccination rates a concern after Washington measles outbreak

Once thought to be extinct, measles may soon resurface as a threat in parts of Idaho in which residents have shunned the vaccine, an instructor with the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine recently warned. 

In neighboring Washington, officials declared a state of emergency Monday, with 35 cases of measles confirmed through Sunday. Of those cases, most involved children, 30 of whom were not immunized.

"If you think you might have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms of measles, call your primary care provider before going to a clinic or hospital to prevent potential exposure to others in waiting rooms," the press release from University of Washington Medicine reads. 

Doctor Joshua Lundberg, who as an assistant professor of family medicine with Meridian-based ICOM, said it wouldn't surprise him to see measles spread into Idaho, where he believes too many residents have recently chosen against immunizing their children for the contagious viral disease.

Lundberg said doctors may need to refresh their memories about symptoms of a disease that was formerly thought to have been eradicated. He said symptoms start with a fever and fatigue, and patients may develop a cough and reddish eyes. A characteristic rash usually develops within two to four days of the fever, with raised red spots usually originating from the face. 

He suggests people who have the symptoms should stay home, or wear masks if they have to be in public. 

Physicians administer vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella together in a two-shot series, providing lifetime immunity to the diseases. Lundberg suggests that anyone who hasn't gotten vaccinated yet should consult a physician to discuss getting shots now. 

The vaccinations take about two to four weeks to take effect. The mortality rate associated with measles is below 10 percent, but Lundberg emphasized any deaths associated with a preventable disease are unnecessary. 

In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control declared measles to be extinct, based on the vaccination's success.

Lundberg explained many people have chosen not to get vaccinated in recent years due to false claims that the vaccines may be linked to autism. 

"The origin of that came from a study done in England that later has been shown to be false," Lundberg said. "The person doing that study faked his results."

Subsequent studies have yielded no evidence of a link between autism and the vaccine, he said.

Nonetheless, the Idaho Division of Public Health reported the following Idaho counties had fewer than half of children who were 2 years old as of July 1, 2017, immunized for measles, mumps and rubella: Payette, 13.71 percent; Washington, 35.04 percent; Oneida, 35.71 percent; Clark, 44.44 percent; Camas, 45.45 percent; and Franklin, 49.49 percent.

In East Idaho, 81.07 percent of Bannock County 2-year-olds were vaccinated, compared with 69.56 percent in Bingham County, 82.98 percent in Bonneville County and 88.82 percent in Fremont County. 

Kambrea Jones, immunization contract coordinator with the Southeastern District Health Department, said her department is monitoring the situation in Washington. She said her organization's eight offices all have supplies of the MMR vaccine and have vaccination, and appointments are readily available in every office.