The University of Oregon Health Center implemented measles prevention systems to work with the already high vaccination rate on campus to protect students from measles after an ongoing outbreak that began in mid-January in Washington and Oregon.
The outbreak began in Washington on January 18 and was quickly declared a public health emergency, with 59 confirmed cases in Clark County as of last Saturday, according to a Clark County Public Health press release. There have also been four confirmed cases in Multnomah County, Oregon, and one confirmed case in King County, Washington, according to each county’s health department website.
Incoming students at UO in 2018 had a measles vaccination rate of 96 percent as of January, said Angela Long, director of health initiatives at the health center. The rate is above the 90 to 95 percent immunization rate needed to prevent a persistent outbreak, according to National Institutes of Health studies.
She said the vaccination rate is likely 96 percent across the university, but the health center started tracking vaccination rates differently in 2017, leaving only two years of data.
Despite the high vaccination rate, the health center is still taking proactive measures in case the highly contagious measles makes it to Eugene.
Long said they reached out to students who have either medical or personal vaccine waivers and explained the benefits of vaccination. “We have had students take us up on the offer,” she said.
They also added information about measles and the vaccine to the Health Updates section of the health center website in late January.
Long and health center medical director Richard Brunader said the student vaccination rate isn’t enough to prevent measles on campus, though; what happens in the larger Eugene community also matters.
Off campus, Lane County has a vaccination rate of almost 95 percent for measles, according to Jason Davis, the public information officer for Lane County Health and Human Services. He said the estimate isn’t perfect because Lane County Public Health calculates it by tracking the immunization records of school-aged children, but they don’t factor in adults and non-school-aged children. But Davis said they’re confident the rate is high enough to prevent an outbreak.
Lane County Public Health reached out to schools and healthcare providers to remind them how to identify and treat measles, Davis said. They also added language about measles and the vaccine to this year’s exclusion letter, which is sent to parents who haven’t submitted documentation for their child’s immunization records or exemptions.
Davis said the Lane County health department also participates in a daily conference call to check in with the health departments in Clark County and Multnomah County where the recent measles outbreak began.
Brunader, Long and Davis all stressed that anyone who believes they have measles should call a doctor or the health center before coming in to avoid exposing others to the disease.
“If we have a suspected case, we’re going to be very proactive about isolating that student,” said Long. She said the health center will work with the Office of the Dean of Students to find accommodations for students if they’re suspected of having measles.
Brunader also said students who haven’t been vaccinated may be asked to stay off campus if there is any risk of exposure.
“Really — unless there’s a reason you can’t — just be immunized,” said Brunader.
Long and Brunader recommended that students with compromised immune systems call their doctor or the health center for more specialized support.
Students who aren’t sure if they’ve been immunized can log into their UO MyHealth account and look at their immunization records. Long said they can call the health center if they still aren’t sure.
The health center also offers a blood test, called a titer, to check for immunity to measles for students who believe they got the vaccine but can’t find the records, or students who are concerned that the vaccine didn’t protect them fully. But Brunader said the chances are slim for students who got both doses of the vaccine.
“Measles is one of the most contagious diseases on the planet,” said Davis. According to the CDC, being in a room with a person with measles is enough to contract the disease, and the measles virus can linger in the air for up to two hours after exposure.
During the recent outbreak, people were exposed in highly trafficked areas in Portland, including the Portland International Airport and a Portland Trail Blazers game at the Moda Center, according to the Oregon Health Authority website. There are other exposure sites in Portland suburbs and Bend.
Measles can cause an infection in the brain that causes swelling, as well as death for children, Davis said.
But the vaccination is effective. The MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, is a two-shot series, and for those with both doses, the vaccine is 97 percent effective. Even for those who only receive the first dose, it is still 93 percent effective in protecting against the disease.
“There’s nothing 100 percent,” said Brunader. “But I walk into the room; I’m not concerned. It’s about as good as you can get.”