A woman with measles, c. 1908. Photo: Wikimedia.

In the last few days, there has been an outbreak of measles in the Washington state just across the line from Portland, Oregon. As of this writing, 35 confirmed cases of the deadly and extraordinarily virulent disease have been confirmed, and several more patients are currently suspected of having contracted it. Washington’s governor has declared a state of emergency.

All but eradicated from the United States thanks to comprehensive vaccination programs, measles is still endemic in other parts of the world, and once in a while it hitches a ride to our country via international travel. Unfortunately, it can quickly establish itself again in communities where vaccination rates are low — such as certain segments of Humboldt County.

Dr. Donald Baird, Humboldt County Public Health Officer.

You should immunize your children. Measles is an incredibly savage disease that still kills more than a hundred thousand people a year, most of them small kids. People who are not killed by the disease may still develop serious, lifelong complications. The measles virus is transmitted by air very easily, and people are contagious several days before they show any symptoms.

Vancouver, Washington — the epicenter of the current outbreak — is only a seven-hour drive away from Humboldt. Like Humboldt, it has a large enough contingent of parents opposed to vaccination on religious or pseudoscientific grounds to make such an outbreak viable.

Earlier today, Dr. Donald Baird — a family practitioner and the current public health officer for the county of Humboldt — spoke with KHUM’s Lyndsey Battle about the low rates of vaccination among certain Humboldt County communities, and why that could provide fertile ground for the virus if it arrives here. 

Also covered: What the county is doing to keep watch for measles, and what you should be looking for if you’re the parent of a child at risk.

Listen to the full conversation below:

Dr. Donald Baird talks to KHUM’s Lyndsey Battle about the current measles outbreak in Washington. Jan. 29, 2019.