HILO — The state Department of Health has confirmed two cases of measles this month in unvaccinated children visiting the Big Island from Washington state.
According to a medical advisory issued to health care providers Jan. 16 by state epidemiologist Sarah Park, the cases occurred in visitors who were exposed to an infected international guest in their home state.
In a phone interview, Park said health officials here were notified quickly by Washington state, which was aware of and monitoring a case that had exposed a traveling family.
The DOH was able to contact the family “very quickly” and was able to monitor them, but two unvaccinated children developed measles during their stay.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recently declared a statewide state of emergency in response to a measles outbreak there.
According to Park, the two children with measles were not infectious while they traveled, and the East Hawaii home where they stayed was “quite separate from other homes by quite a distance,” which helped minimize exposure.
Although the visitors were advised to remain isolated, and the likelihood of exposure to others is low, Park’s letter said the “period of infectivity” while in Hawaii ranged from Jan. 4 to Jan. 13.
And while the incubation period won’t be over until Feb. 4, and there might be a possibility of seeing a case related to the original two, Park said the likelihood is low.
“This particular situation worked out well in that we were notified very quickly and could immediately make contact and (have the family) remain in quarantine,” she said. “You can imagine if we weren’t contacted or other jurisdictions were unaware of exposures and people traveled and went around vacationing. … That would have been a much, much bigger headache and much more worrisome.”
Park said the situation highlights the importance of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and “how infectious this virus can be among susceptible individuals. A simple vaccination can really protect your loved ones and the community, (and) prevent future outbreaks.”
According to Park’s letter, measles can be transmitted by direct contact with “infectious droplets” or through the air and is highly contagious.
“The virus can remain infectious in the air up to two hours after an infected person leaves the area,” the letter states. “Persons with measles are contagious from four days before through four days after rash onset, and susceptible persons may develop rash approximately 14 days after exposure,” which is a range of 7-21 days.
In 2018, 349 individual cases of measles were confirmed in 26 states and the District of Columbia, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. That’s the second-greatest number of annual cases reported since measles was eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 (the greatest was 667 cases reported in 2014).
For more information about the illness, visit bit.ly/DOHmeasles.
Email Stephanie Salmons at email@example.com.