Social Media Vaccine Wars

Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines sit in a cooler at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y.

RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Health is investigating a suspected case of measles in Northern Virginia that doesn’t appear to be related to the nationwide outbreak that on Wednesday surpassed 1,000 confirmed cases.

A child who recently traveled outside the U.S. was taken to an emergency room with symptoms that appear to be measles. If confirmed, it would be the state’s first case this year.

Health officials as a precaution are encouraging people who may have been near the child to ensure their vaccinations are complete and to see a doctor if they are not.

Anyone who was at Dulles International Airport in Terminal A at the baggage claim level Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Novant Health UVa Health System Haymarket Medical Center in the emergency department from 11 p.m. Sunday to 4:30 a.m. Monday, or Inova Fair Oaks Hospital in the emergency department and waiting area Tuesday from 3 to 5:30 p.m. may have been exposed to the measles.

Those who have had two doses of the measles vaccine don’t need to take any action, but anyone who has only received one dose should contact their health provider for a second dose and those who have not been vaccinated should contact their health care provider to determine what prevention steps they should take, according to guidance from the health department.

Symptoms can take several days to appear and those exposed may develop symptoms until June 25, according to the health department.

Measles is a contagious disease that is spread through coughing and sneezing, resulting in a rash over the entire body. It can be fatal for small children. The disease was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but has returned across the country, with 26 states reporting cases and the total number of cases reaching the highest level since 1992.

Federal health officials believe that misinformation about the safety of vaccines has led to a lower rate of children being immunized. More than half of the recorded cases in the country are in Brooklyn, New York, and are within an Orthodox Jewish community, according to the city. The city’s health commissioner mandated measles vaccination in the community in April and nearly 30,000 vaccinations have been administered to people under the age of 19 there.

In Virginia, about 93 to 99% of school children are vaccinated, according to Christy Gray, director of the division of immunization for the Virginia Department of Health, since vaccination is required for school entry. Less than 2% of children have exemptions, which are classified as medical or religious.

“We cannot say this enough: Vaccines are a safe and highly effective public health tool that can prevent this disease and end the current outbreak. The measles vaccine is among the most-studied medical products we have and is given safely to millions of children and adults each year,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement Wednesday.

“I encourage all Americans to talk to your doctor about what vaccines are recommended to protect you, your family, and your community from measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Gray said the state health department is using an abundance of caution in its response to this potential case in Virginia, but that the case doesn’t significantly change the threat to Virginians.

“(Measles) is always a car ride away,” she said. “A train trip away.”

Gray encouraged all Virginians to know their vaccination status and to make sure they get two doses of the vaccine, even if they’re unsure whether they’ve had it before. Receiving the vaccine more than twice does not cause harm, Gray said.

The health department recommends that children receive a first dose of the vaccine at 12-15 months and the second dose prior to starting kindergarten at age 4-6 years old.

Residents with additional questions about this measles investigation can call 571-233-7314. For more information on measles, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/epidemiology-fact-sheets/measles-rubeola/.

Twitter: @bridgetbalch

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bbalch@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6601

Twitter: @bridgetbalch

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