BREMERTON, Wash. (NNS) -- Naval Hospital Bremerton (NHB) might be miles from a measles epicenter, but the mere threat of the contagious viral infection has command officials continually monitoring the situation.
“Measles is a significant disease caused by a respiratory virus and is highly contagious to unvaccinated people, especially younger children," said Dr. Dan Frederick, NHB population health officer. "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. It can lead to permanent deafness, brain damage, and even rarely, death. It requires a concerted effort on the part of the medical community and the public at large to minimize the impact.”
Frederick attests that forewarned is forearmed.
“First and foremost, since vaccinations of our pediatric patients is the most important and successful prevention step we can take, we are reviewing medical records to identify children who are either due or overdue for their MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella," said Frederick. "Our medical home teams are then contacting and encouraging their parents to bring their child to our immunization clinic to receive this vaccine, which provides a very high 93 percent protection with just the first dose."
He also cited, per U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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.
“Even for those three people out of 100 who may still be infected with measles, they are much more likely to have a mild case of the illness,” Frederick added.
NHB in Kitsap Peninsula is approximately 160 miles from Clark County, located in southern Washington, where the spread of measles has resulted in 61 confirmed cases as of Feb. 17. There’s also another four confirmed cases in nearby Multnomah County, home to Portland, Oregon, and one in King County, home to Seattle. Clark County Public Health reports that 54 of the confirmed 61 cases were not immunized, and are mostly children - 44 - between the ages of one and 10.
“Know, check and review your and your child’s measles vaccination status," said Frederick. "The vaccine is usually given as MMR or MMRV - measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella. You can go check your home immunization records, online via the MHS GENESIS patient portal, or call your NHB Medical Home Team or primary care physician.”
He also noted that a parent can check a child’s school immunization status via www.schooldigger.com and sign up for Washington State’s MyIR, that allows a parent to see a family’s vaccinations at https://wa.myir.net/
To keep the highly-contagious virus at bay, Frederick continually advocates being informed and not alarmed is key to understanding that measles is a vaccine-preventable infection.
“Patents, community institutions such as day-care center, and even our own medical community need a refresher since measles outbreaks have been relatively uncommon since 2000," Frederick said. "We need to be reminded about the key features of this illness. There has been a resurgence of measles across the county in the past few years due to a combination of complacency and misinformation. This has lowered 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.”
Some key features bear repeating; along with being highly-contagious and causing high fever and rash, most who get infected with measles recover, yet up to 30 percent can develop complications and a small number of measles cases have been fatal.
“Measles vaccines have been available since 1963, and since the vaccine was licensed at that time, the drop-off of cases is remarkable," Frederick said. "What used to be in the hundreds of thousands has dropped to almost zero.”
NHB has been in close communication with local city, county and state health officials on monitoring the measles outbreak.
“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," stated Frederick. "Providing a consistent and unified message strengthens the confidence that our patients need and 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.”
What are the signs or symptoms of measles to look for?
If a child develops 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.
“If this happens, the first immediate step is to call your NHB medical team or Urgent Care Clinic before bringing your child to the facility, so that you can be met at the parking lot, your child is provided a mask, and is escorted – bypassing the waiting room - into the clinic for evaluation," explained Frederick. "Doing it this way avoids putting other people in the hospital and clinic at risk for becoming infected.”
Family Medicine Clinic: 360-475-4379
Pediatric Clinic: 360-475-4216
Urgent Care Clinic: 360-475-4286
Frederick stressed that if anyone thinks their child may have been exposed to measles, call their primary care physician or the 24/7 hotline for the Defense Health Agency Immunization Clinical Support Center at 1-877-GET-VACC (1-877-438-8222) and then Press 1 to speak with a live Nurse Immunizations specialist for advice on next steps.
“It really depends upon the child’s age and immunization status," Frederick said. "Immediately contacting the physician or medical home team - or Defense Health Agency Immunization Clinical Support Center - will give them guidance to determine the best course of action.”
For more news from Naval Hospital Bremerton, visit www.navy.mil/local/nhb/.