News-Miner opinion: Think that because Alaska is far away from the measles outbreaks of the Lower 48 that measles can’t surface here?
If you do, you’re not facing reality.
Nearly half of the U.S. states — 22 — have reported measles cases this year in what is the most severe outbreak of the virus since it was eliminated in 2000, according to the latest info from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That’s a lot of potential for an infected person to travel to Alaska and potentially spread the virus to someone who hasn’t been vaccinated. And it could spread from there to others who haven’t been vaccinated.
The latest measles CDC update shows there have been 626 cases of measles nationwide from Jan. 1 through April 19.
“This is an increase of 71 cases from the previous week. This is the second-greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since measles was eliminated in 2000, second only to the 667 cases reported during all of 2014,” the CDC notes on its website.
Here’s what’s ominous: “In the coming weeks, 2019 confirmed case numbers will likely surpass 2014 levels,” the CDC states.
Washington state, where Alaskans regularly travel, has reported 72 measles cases this year, with 71 of those in Clark County, located in the southern part of the state. The county is the state’s fifth-most populous and contains the city of Vancouver.
That’s why the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services issued a measles warning for Alaskans at the end of January.
Alaska has generally been spared the presence of measles. Let’s keep it that way.
The most recent confirmed case of measles in Alaska was diagnosed in Fairbanks on June 9, 2015. That patient, according to the Department of Health and Social Services, had recently traveled to central Asia.
Measles had been absent in Alaska for 15 years until the 2015 case. In 2000, a single case was reported in Anchorage.
As for measles outbreaks in Alaska, the last one occurred in 1998 in Anchorage when 33 confirmed cases were reported. At the time, it was the largest outbreak in the nation since 1996. Patients ranged in ages from 2 years to 38 years.
The bottom line here is that measles isn’t something to be taken lightly. It is highly contagious. Parents who choose not to have their children vaccinated are putting that child’s health at risk. And they are allowing the virus to infect other children who have not been vaccinated and to infect adults who are either deliberately or unknowingly unprotected.
Become aware of the ongoing health risk of measles. And, most importantly, make sure you and your children have been vaccinated against the virus.
The Department of Health and Social Services has a measles information web page online at bit.ly/2vwTMhv. The page includes information about measles symptoms and vaccination guidelines.