Measles case in Pacific Northwest outbreak at 51

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — Public health officials say there are now 51 confirmed measles cases in the Pacific Northwest and seven suspected cases.

Authorities said Sunday that 49 of the cases are in southwest Washington state, one is in Seattle and one in the Portland, Oregon area.

In Clark County, Washington, 42 of the patients were not vaccinated against the highly contagious virus and the vaccination history of five people wasn't clear.

One person received the first shot in a two-shot series, but not the second.

No new exposure sites were identified in the update.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee last week declared a state of emergency because of the outbreak.

"I would hope that this ends soon, but this could go on for weeks, if not months," said Dr. Alan Melnick, public health director in Clark County, Washington, just north of Portland. The county has had most of the diagnosed cases so far. "This is an exquisitely contagious disease."

The outbreak has lawmakers in Washington state revisiting non-medical exemptions that allow children to attend school without vaccinations if their parents or guardians express a personal objection. Liberal-leaning Oregon and Washington have some of the nation's highest statewide vaccine exemption rates, driven in part by low vaccination levels in scattered communities and at some private and alternative schools.

Four percent of Washington secondary school students have non-medical vaccine exemptions. In Oregon, which has a similar law, 7.5 percent of kindergarteners in 2018 were missing shots for non-medical reasons.

Washington and Oregon are among 17 states that allow some type of non-medical exemption for vaccines for "personal, moral or other beliefs," according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Numerous studies have shown vaccines do not cause autism — a common reason cited by those who don't want their kids immunized. Those opposed to certain vaccines also object to an outside authority mandating what they put in their children's bodies, and some have concerns about the combination of the measles vaccine with the mumps and rubella immunizations, which is how it's routinely given.

A measure introduced by Republican Rep. Paul Harris of Vancouver, Washington — the epicenter of the current outbreak — would remove the personal exemption specifically for the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, or MMR. It's scheduled for a public hearing in Olympia on Feb. 8.

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