Is the Clark County measles outbreak over?

The county’s Public Health Department has set a date to declare the outbreak ended

CLARK COUNTY — Barring any setback, Clark County Public Health is prepared to soon declare the local measles outbreak over.

Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick. Photo courtesy Clark County Public Health
Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick. Photo courtesy Clark County Public Health

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed for April 28th,” said Doctor Alan Melnick, the county’s public health director.

According to CDC guidelines, a measles outbreak is considered over if no new cases are reported within two incubation periods for the disease. That would be 42 days. However, the CDC suggests counting from the first day a patient’s rash becomes visible. Melnick said his department wanted to be a little more conservative than that.

“We’re counting 42 days from the last date the last case was contagious, which would have been four days after rash onset,” said Melnick. “That was March 17th, so we’re counting April 28th as the 42 days.”

Melnick says if no new cases are discovered by this Sunday, the department will issue a press release Monday morning declaring the measles outbreak over.

“I’d rather be a little bit later than a little bit sooner on this.”

The measles outbreak in Clark County tallied 73 confirmed cases, including one hospitalization, and cost the state well over $1 million in response. For Clark County alone the price tag was nearly $800,000 says Melnick, in addition to pulling staff from other duties in order to help with the outbreak. The county has applied for reimbursement from the state for those costs, and Melnick said he is cautiously optimistic the legislature will pay back at least some of the expense.

“The really strong support has felt really good,” said Melnick. “And it’s been really meaningful to all of our staff who put all the hours in.”

County Manager Shawn Henessee said in a recent interview that he believes the county’s quick response likely saved the state millions of dollars, by preventing an even wider-spread outbreak.

According to CDC data, there have been nearly 700 confirmed cases of measles nationwide already this year. That already breaks the highest yearly total since 1994.

The outbreak in Clark County prompted heated discussions in Olympia about new legislation to make it more difficult for parents to get an exemption for their children to avoid the MMR vaccine for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella. House Bill 1638 recently passed both the House and Senate, and is expected to be signed by Governor Jay Inslee. Under HB 1638, parents can no longer use personal or philosophical exemptions for the MMR vaccine and keep their children in public or private schools or licensed daycares. California health officials estimate vaccination rates have risen five percent since similar legislation was approved there in 2015.

Opponents of HB 1638 say the state is using faulty data to calculate real vaccination rates, and that making exceptions harder to get will simply drive more parents to homeschool.

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