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Measles outbreak unlikely to reach Southern Nevada, health officials say

Updated January 30, 2019 - 8:24 pm

Worried about contracting measles? If you’re vaccinated, rest easy, the Southern Nevada Health District says.

Although a measles outbreak in Washington has infected 38, in addition to 13 suspected cases, Dr. Fermin Leguen at the health district said as long as Nevadans and visitors are immunized against the disease, it’s unlikely an outbreak could take hold in the Silver State.

Still, the health district advised residents this week to make sure their immunizations were up-to-date.

“As the state of Washington declares an emergency in response to an outbreak of measles, the Southern Nevada Health District is urging everyone to ensure they and their children are appropriately immunized,” the district said in a news release.

In late December, Clark County reported its first measles case since 2015 in an adult who’d traveled abroad. The county also experienced a small outbreak with nine confirmed cases in 2015, Leguen said.

Despite Las Vegas’ booming tourism industry, Leguen said he’s not concerned that a visitor with measles could cause an outbreak. If you’re vaccinated, you’re protected, he said, referring to evidence showing the shot is 97 percent effective.

“If the population is vaccinated, the chances of having an outbreak in the community is almost none,” he said. (Wes Rand/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, however, than an influx of travelers from countries where the disease is common could contribute to an increase in measles cases nationwide. So can unvaccinated pockets of the population — apparently a contributor to the outbreak in Washington.

Vaccine refusal, arising from the mistaken belief that the vaccine can lead to autism, is a documented reason for the resurgence of some diseases like measles.

In Nevada, limited access to primary care for low-income and rural populations may also play a role, said Heidi Parker, executive director of the advocacy group Immunize Nevada.

“It’s safe, it’s effective, it’s continually tested. We have to get that information out so that parents see and hear it from credible sources,” she said.

There were 63 cases of measles in the U.S. in 2010, CDC data show. In 2014, 667 people became infected, including 383 in an unvaccinated Amish community in Ohio and others due to outbreaks linked to travelers from the Philippines.

In late 2014, an outbreak occurred at Disneyland in Anaheim, which continued into 2015.

Hundreds of people once died annually from the disease, before the vaccination became available in 1963. In 2000, measles was declared eliminated in the U.S., according to the CDC.

But it continues to be a problem, and with vaccine refusal and access issues, the once-upon-a-time disease could become a problem once more. The 2014 outbreak was the worst since the CDC issued its declaration.

“I think the bottom line is we shouldn’t be seeing this resurgence,” Parker said.

Contact Jessie Bekker at jbekker@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563. Follow @jessiebekks on Twitter.

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