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Naval Hospital Bremerton keeping Military Families Safe from Measles

16 February 2024

From Douglas Stutz

As if the annual cold and flu season isn’t taking the breath away of many across the U.S., there’s another highly contagious respiratory virus out there dotting the landscape.Once considered eradicated, measles is now escalating.Like the public health experts at the national, state, and local levels, the public health and preventive medicine
As if the annual cold and flu season isn’t taking the breath away of many across the U.S., there’s another highly contagious respiratory virus out there dotting the landscape.

Once considered eradicated, measles is now escalating.

Like the public health experts at the national, state, and local levels, the public health and preventive medicine providers from Naval Hospital Bremerton are now following the activity of the measles virus since outbreaks in nearby southwest Washington earlier in this respiratory virus season.

There’s been approximately two dozen cases and several clusters of measles confirmed within the U.S. from early December 2023 through late January 2024 prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to alert healthcare providers across the nation. Last year in the U.S, there was a total of 58 measles reported, including several in Oregon and Washington.

“Measles is a significant disease caused by a respiratory virus and is highly contagious to unvaccinated and even some under-vaccinated people, especially younger children. While declared eradicated in 2000 in the U.S., outbreaks still occur most often due to a combination of infected travelers coming to the U.S. and subsequent contact with unvaccinated U.S. citizens, primarily children. Although most patients eventually make a full recovery, one in 1,000 will suffer permanent complications such as deafness, learning disabilities, and rarely, death. It requires a concerted effort on the part of the medical community and the public at large to minimize the impact,” said Dr. Dan Frederick, NHB population health officer.

The CDC notes that those who are primarily impacted by the preventable virus are children and adolescents who had not been vaccinated with the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.

As was the case in 2019 before the pandemic, Washington state has had two outbreaks of measles and 90 cases total so far this season. The majority of cases, then as now, were in southwest Washington, just a few hours south of the third largest Navy fleet concentration and a host of military families.

“Vaccinations of our pediatric patients is the most important and successful prevention step we can take. We encourage parents to bring their child to our Immunization Clinic to receive the MMR vaccine which provides a very high 93 percent protection with just the first dose,” explained Cmdr. Brian Legendre, NHB Preventive Medicine Officer, citing that per CDC guidelines, the first dose is normally given between 12 and 15 months of age, with the second and final dose given between the ages of four and six that raises the protection rate up to 97 percent.

Children 6-11 months who are traveling internationally can receive a dose of MMR before travel. They will still need a two-dose series after 12 months of age.

NHB Immunization Clinic can provide MMR vaccination – as well as other vaccines - on a walk-in basis, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

“Parents should know, check and review their child’s measles vaccination status. The vaccine is usually given as MMR or MMRV - measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella,” added Legendre. “To ensure a child has completed the two dose series, parents should check either their children’s home immunization records, or go online via the MHS GENESIS patient portal to review their vaccines or contact their primary care provider for assistance if they are unable to find the documentation.”

To keep the highly contagious virus at bay, Cmdr. Carolyn Ellison, NHB’s Director of Public Health emphasizes that being informed and not alarmed is key to understanding that measles is a vaccine-preventable infection.

“Patients, community institutions such as day care centers, and even our own medical community need a refresher since measles outbreaks have been relatively uncommon since 2000,” Ellison remarked. “There has been a resurgence of measles across the country most likely related to a decrease in the overall public vaccination rate to below the critical ‘herd’ immunity of 95 percent. Herd immunity is where even unvaccinated children are reasonably well-protected by all the vaccinated people around them.”

“Just as with any public health related matters, it is paramount for our military health personnel to be working closely with our local public health partners. Providing a consistent and unified message strengthens the confidence that our patients should have with their medical support systems. It is typical in situations like this for county, state, federal public health officials as subject matter experts to take the lead for the medical community response. We do all that we can to support that effort,” stated Frederick.

What are the signs or symptoms of measles to look for?

A child can develop a high fever with red, watery eyes, a cough and runny nose, followed in three to five days with a rash that starts in the face and spreads down the body. It can lead to seizures, ear infections, diarrhea and pneumonia.

“If this happens, the first immediate step for any parent is to call your primary care physician. If a parent decides to head to the nearest ER or our Urgent Care Clinic, be sure that the infected child is wearing a mask before entering any medical facility for evaluation. That will help lessen putting other people at risk for becoming infected,” said Legendre.

He also stressed that if anyone thinks their child may have been exposed to measles, call their primary care provider or the 24/7 hotline for the Defense Health Agency Immunization Healthcare Division at 1-877-GET-VACC (1-877-438-8222) or DSN at 761-4245, Option 1 for live clinical consultation. Calls are answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by licensed healthcare providers with expertise in immunization issues to assist in answering patient and provider inquiries.

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