Health & Fitness

Measles has come to Idaho for the first time in 18 years

Update: A public health nurse for the North Central District health department told the Statesman on Thursday that Idaho’s first measles patient was infected due to international travel — a common factor in the current national outbreak.

The patient may have exposed churchgoers, in addition to hospital patients. The department said Thursday that the patient attended service at Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow on Sunday, May 26.

The department declined to give more information about the patient, except to say that the patient hadn’t been vaccinated against the measles.

The original story, from June 5, 2019:

A public health agency in North Idaho has reported the first case of measles in the Gem State, during the current nationwide outbreak.

Idaho’s North Central District health department announced Wednesday that a patient has been diagnosed with measles in Latah County. It’s the first case of measles in Idaho since 2001, according to the department.

The patient was in Moscow’s Gritman Medical Center lab and imaging waiting area on Friday, May 31, while they were infected but before they were diagnosed, the department said. Anyone who was in the waiting area between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. that day may have been exposed to the virus.

Measles can be prevented by getting the measles-mumps-rubella vaccination, or the MMR.

“Measles is preventable, and the way to prevent an outbreak is to ensure that all children and adults who can be vaccinated, do get vaccinated,” the department said in a news release. “If you are ill and think you have measles, stay at home (and) contact your health care provider. If you think you have been exposed and you are not vaccinated, stay at home and contact (a local public health department).”

The department is notifying patients who may have been exposed at the hospital, as well as their families, the release said.

“Gritman clinical staff immediately recognized the potential symptoms associated with measles and quickly put standard protective measures into effect, including isolating the individual in a negative pressure containment room to protect others from the risk of infection,” the hospital said in a news release. “The public health department was immediately notified of the situation. After the individual left Gritman, all areas of the hospital where they were present were thoroughly cleaned and completely disinfected.”

Measles vaccination rates for Idaho

Most people in Latah County have been immunized against measles.

But some groups of people cannot be vaccinated, such as infants under 12 months of age, and people with compromised immune systems. For those groups to be protected from the virus, public health experts say that about 93-95 percent of an area’s population would have to be immunized against measles — either through a vaccine or by surviving the illness.

The Idaho Statesman has found that schools in some parts of Idaho have vaccination rates that likely reach that “herd immunity” level, including in the Treasure Valley. But some parts of North Idaho don’t.

Why is measles bad?

Measles is highly contagious — both because of the incubation period and because it’s easily spread.

Someone who has contracted the measles can be contagious for several days before showing symptoms of the measles, which means they can spread the virus without knowing it.

Almost every unvaccinated person who has close contact with someone infected with measles will get the disease, according to the CDC. The virus also can linger in the air for two hours after an infected person has left the room.

The measles can cause serious and potentially fatal complications, such as pneumonia. It also can cause permanent disabilities, such as brain damage from the rare measles complication of acute encephalitis.