Washington State Confirms First Measles Death In America In Over A Decade

The Disneyland measles outbreak may be long over, but it's not the end for measles in America. The United States had its first measles death recorded in 12 years after an autopsy performed on a Washington woman turned up positive for the disease, state health officials confirmed Thursday. The woman, whose identity has not been released, died in the spring from pneumonia due to measles, according to the autopsy report.

The Washington State Department of Health said in a statement Thursday that the woman most likely contracted measles from a medical facility in Clallam County, which endured a measles outbreak in 2014. According to the state's health department, the woman was at the facility at the same time of a patient who later developed a rash from measles. The woman wasn't diagnosed with measles until after her death because she didn't display any common measles symptoms, Washington state health officials said. She was already on several medications due to other health concerns, which may have made her more susceptible to catching the disease.

"People with compromised immune systems often cannot be vaccinated against measles," Washington health officials said. Those with preexisting health problems often rely on herd immunity, which is when "a critical portion of a community is immunized" against certain diseases to protect those who can't be vaccinated, according to vaccines.gov.

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This is the first recorded death from measles in the United States since 2003, and it's already raising concerns among government health workers. The United States just saw one of its largest measles outbreak in recent history earlier this year, with visitors to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, contracting the highly contagious disease in late December 2014. The multi-state outbreak spread quickly outside California, affecting people in states such as Washington, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the first six months of 2015, the CDC reported 178 cases of measles in 24 states and the District of Columbia. About 120, or roughly 66 percent, of these cases have been linked to the Disneyland outbreak. The year before, the number of reported measles cases in America skyrocketed, with nearly 650 reported cases — the most since 1994 — and 23 outbreaks; the CDC said a majority of these cases were linked to non-vaccinated Amish communities in Ohio.

Although Washington health officials have said the measles the woman from Clallam County contracted is not linked to the Disneyland outbreak, Washington has been dealing with its own measles crisis since an outbreak in 2014 infected over 30 people. So far in 2015, there have been 11 reported cases of measles in the state, with six of those cases, including the woman who died, occurring in Clallam County.

"This tragic situation illustrates the importance of immunizing as many people as possible to provide a high level of community protection against measles," Washington health officials added in Thursday's statement. "Public health officials recommend that everyone who is eligible for the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine get vaccinated so they can help protect themselves, their families, and the vulnerable people in their community."

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