Unvaccinated students and staff barred from two Seattle-area schools after new measles cases
After a staff member at Issaquah High School and a student at North Creek High School in Bothell were diagnosed with measles, Public Health - Seattle & King County and Snohomish Health District told the schools to keep out any unimmunized students, staff and volunteers for at least three weeks.
The student and staff member were among four newly-confirmed cases in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties, health officials announced Wednesday.
Public Health - Seattle & King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said the exclusion policy is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Measles spreads so effectively in school settings. And once outbreaks get going, they can be very difficult to control, as we saw in Clark County," Duchin said.
Of Washington state's current 77 cases of the potentially-deadly disease, 71 are among unvaccinated children in Clark County. The new diagnoses bring the totals elsewhere to four in King County, two in Pierce County and one in Snohomish County. Two of the cases confirmed in King County were in travelers to the region.
Measles causes fever, rash and cough, and can be serious in children ages 5 and younger, the elderly, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems. It's so contagious that the virus can linger in a room for two hours after an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Issaquah High School is closed Thursday so the district can determine which school staff members are up-to-date on their measles vaccine.
Staff aren’t usually required to be vaccinated, as students are.
Health department records show that last school year, as many as 114 students at the two schools had not gotten all of their measles shots.
Many students at the schools had documented vaccine exemptions due to personal reasons, rather than medical or religious exemptions. Last Friday, in the midst of the largest measles outbreak in two decades, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill removing personal exemptions for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine for schoolchildren.
Issaquah High is off-limits to students and staff without documented measles immunity until at least May 31, per health department decree.
Northshore School District said students and staff who lack proof of measles vaccination may not return to North Creek High School until June 3 at the earliest.
Any further confirmed cases at either school would extend the exclusionary period.
In a letter to Issaquah families and employees warning them of their potential exposure to measles, Public Health recommended that everyone be on the lookout for symptoms of the illness regardless of their immunization status. The measles vaccine is 97% effective after two doses, but Duchin said it's less effective in some people, especially those previously vaccinated whose immune systems later become weakened.
Duchin recommends that everyone eligible for vaccination gets protected from measles.
"The sooner people get vaccinated, if they're not already, the sooner we'll be able to get over this" outbreak, Duchin said.
"But because we know we have significant pockets of under-immunized people throughout [King] County, we feel like we're throwing sparks on dry wood."
Public Health - Seattle & King County has issued a list of potential exposure sites for the Issaquah teacher, including May 6-9 at Issaquah High. Snohomish Health District has published a similar list for its student with measles, including May 6-10 at North Creek High.
Health officials ask anyone who suspects they or their children might have measles, or who isn't fully immunized and was potentially exposed to the disease, to contact their health care provider.
People with measles symptoms should call medical facilities before being seen in order to avoid infecting others.