Alaska sees first measles case since 2015

There is a confirmed case of measles in Alaska.

According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, the diagnosis was confirmed Tuesday, in an unvaccinated teenager from the Kenai Peninsula.

The teenager had recently traveled out of state.

Louisa Castrodale is an epidemiologist with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. She says the patient likely contracted measles while traveling, not in Alaska.

“When someone is exposed to measles, it takes anywhere from seven to 21 days for that person to incubate the virus and for them to become sick,” Castrodale said. “So this person had been traveling out of state and likely was exposed somewhere in their travels in either Arizona, or they went through the airport in Seattle. So they were exposed to the virus there. And their body incubated that and they became infectious back here in Alaska.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been measles cases confirmed in Arizona this year. An outbreak is ongoing in Washington.

The department says more cases in Alaska are possible.

“If people were exposed to that person while they were infectious here in Alaska, we could see more cases,” Castrodale said. “But we’d only see more cases if the people who were exposed were actually susceptible to measles.”

Only those not already immune to measles are at immediate risk. Castrodale says once you’ve had measles you can’t get it again. And with the proper immunizations, there’s a very low risk of becoming infected.

Castrodale says it’s important for residents to check their immunization status, and be up-to-date on vaccines.

“We just want to encourage people to think very globally about measles,” Castrodale said. “We’re not the only state who has had measles associated with the travel exposure. We’re probably not going to be the last ones. It’s not going to be the last time we have someone traveling who has the potential to be exposed.”

Alaska has one of the lowest measles vaccination rates in the country. According to the latest data from the CDC, in 2017, around 89% of children in Alaska age 19-35 months were covered by the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

A list of places where others could have been exposed to measles in Alaska is available online. It includes three Soldotna locations: Froso’s Family Dining, Soldotna Urgent Care, and the Central Peninsula Hospital. The windows for exposure fall between July 8 and July 14.

Symptoms of measles include a fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and sore throat, followed by a rash. Anyone who suspects they may have measles is advised to call the doctor before going to their office, to avoid additional exposures.

According to DHSS, the patient is at home recovering.

The last time a case of measles was confirmed in Alaska was 2015. Before that, it had been nearly 15 years.

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