Summer 2018 measles cases: frequently asked questions

July 6, 2018

What’s going on and why is it important?

Local health officials are investigating a limited measles outbreak in the Portland metro area. Measles is a very contagious and potentially serious illness caused by a virus. It is spread through the air after a person with measles coughs or sneezes. People with measles can spread the virus to others before they show symptoms. The virus can also linger in the air for minutes to hours after the infectious person has left.

How common is measles?

Cases of measles are rare in the Portland metro area. Prior to the most recent cases, there had been three cases since 2008. The last case of measles reported in Multnomah County was 2014. It usually happens when someone who is unvaccinated becomes infected while traveling outside the United States.

Measles is easy to catch. But vaccines are very effective.

What’s the risk?

Because most people in our area have been vaccinated against measles, the risk to the general public is low. Measles poses the highest risk to people who have not been vaccinated, especially pregnant women, infants under 12 months and people with weakened immune systems. Common complications of measles include ear infection, lung infection, or diarrhea. More serious complications are rare, but they include swelling of the brain. For every 1000 children infected with measles, 1 or 2 will die.

How do I know if I’m immune?

A person is considered immune to measles if ANY of the following are true:

  • You were born before 1957
  • You are certain you have had the measles
  • You are up  to date on measles vaccines (one dose for children age 12 months through three years old, two doses in anyone four years and older).

What is the health department’s role when there is a case of measles?

The Multnomah County Health Department Communicable Disease Program confirms a possible case with lab tests, and then carefully figures out where the sick person spent time during the days they were contagious. Our staff reaches out to anyone who was exposed to measles to make sure they know to check their vaccine status and to watch for symptoms if they are not fully protected.

When would we see more cases of measles locally?

For this exposure, public health officials expect symptoms in anyone newly infected to appear by mid-July, at the latest.

How did the health department hear about this case?

The person was correctly diagnosed by a local health care provider based on symptoms. A few days later, the health department started getting questions about a possible measles case. We worked with the sick individual to quickly confirm the diagnosis and begin contacting those at highest risk of infection.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of measles start with a fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes followed by a red rash that begins at the head and spreads to the rest of the body. People are contagious with measles for four days before the rash appears and up to four days after the rash appears. After someone is exposed, illness usually develops in 1 to 2 weeks, sometimes as long as 3 or 4.

What do I do if I think I was exposed?

Anyone who has been exposed and believes they have symptoms of measles should first call their health care provider or urgent care to make a plan that avoids exposing others in waiting rooms.

Should I get vaccinated?

The vaccine for measles (called MMR, or “measles, mumps, rubella”) is effective and safe. Minor side effects might happen, such as pain at the site, fever, a mild rash and minor swelling. Severe side effects and allergies are very rare. One dose is recommended for anyone age 1 to 3 years old; 2 doses age 4 and up. Call your healthcare provider or pharmacy to as for the vaccine. The Multnomah County Health Department can also provide the MMR vaccine by appointment. Call 503-988-3406.

Find out more about Measles, vaccines and download handouts in English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese or Somali.

Anyone with questions about measles infection or the measles vaccine should call their primary care provider or their local county health department:

  • Multnomah County Public Health 503-988-3406
  • Clark County Public Health 360-397-8182
  • Clackamas County Public Health 503-655-8411
  • Washington County – 503-846-3594