Doctors worry measles outbreak will get worse, spread

VANCOUVER, Wash. — A security guard mans the door of PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver.

The hospital is under a health alert. Measles is spreading fast and officials worry the worst is yet to come.

"It's like taking a pail of gasoline and throwing a lighted match into it. I have some concerns that this is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Clark County Public Health Director Alan Melnick.

Melnick said there are now 25 confirmed measles cases and 12 suspected cases in Clark County. The majority are kids younger than 10.

At least 21 people with the disease never got the MMR vaccine. The other four cases are unverified.

"What people don't realize about measles is how contagious it is,” said Lawrence Neville, PeaceHealth Southwest Chief Medical Officer. "It's spread by airborne droplets and that's why the very air can be infectious for up to two hours later after someone infected with measles is in that vicinity."

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Miranda Smith said she's frustrated by the outbreak. She has three young kids.

“It's their lives on the line, honestly. If they're not vaccinated and something like this happens, then what am I going to do to save them?" she said.

Washington State Department of Health statistics show Clark County has the sixth lowest immunization rate in the state.

"I'd hardly be surprised if we see more cases that are outside of Clark County,” Melnick said.

The CDC’s immunization recommendation is 90 percent.

Many counties in Washington fall below the recommendation, including:

Clark County: 76 percent

King County: 85 percent

Pierce County: 88 percent

Thurston County: 84 percent

Snohomish County: 85 percent

"Most kids, if they're lucky, will get just a very high fever and a rash and some diarrhea, but it can be dangerous enough that you get pneumonia that can lead to hospitalization,” Neville said.

So far, one child has been hospitalized in Clark County with the measles.

The health department said people with measles symptoms should call before visiting a doctor or emergency room to warn workers.

Doctors said the best way to stop the spread of the disease is to get the vaccine.