The number of confirmed measles cases in Washington state continues to grow amid a government-declared emergency there.
Thirty-five confirmed cases and 11 suspected cases of measles have been identified as of Sunday. Thirty-one victims were unvaccinated, while the status of the remaining four isn’t known. Most cases struck children one to 10 years-old.
The outbreak comes as the Montana Legislature considers two bills that would make it easier to opt out of vaccines.
One would require any communication from a school regarding immunization to include information about exemption options, while the other would make employers accommodate workers that don’t want to be vaccinated for any reason, including medical and religious reasons.
But, John Lynch with Harborview Medical Center in Seattle says opting out of immunization is exactly how diseases like the measles spread.
“Depending on where you go and where the measles is introduced, the ones who are not immunized are the ones who are going to get infected," Lynch says. "And for whatever reason, probably over time, some families in that area have decided not to immunize their children against measles, mumps, and rubella, that’s part of the same vaccine. You’re seeing measles cases in those kids.”
Lynch says measles is one of most infectious diseases we know about.
The virus spreads through the air from a cough or sneeze, and can live on household surfaces for several hours. Public health officials say if one person has the disease, 9 out of 10 people around them will also become infected if they aren’t protected.
Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services says there aren’t currently any measles cases in the state.
Still, officials struggling to contain the previously-eradicated virus say Washington’s outbreak is a textbook example of the critical need to vaccinate against childhood diseases.