CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – A measles outbreak in Washington state has health professionals from coast to coast, including in southwest Virginia, sharing the importance of vaccinations.
"It's extremely important, not just for that family, but for the people that surround them," said Jason Deese, district epidemiologist for the New River Health District.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there were 349 confirmed cases of measles in 2018 in 26 states, including Virginia. The CDC says that was the second-highest number of reported cases since measles was eliminated in the United States in 2000. The CDC says one of the reasons for the increase in cases is the spread of the disease in communities with pockets of unvaccinated people.
"For decades, vaccines were given and compliance was very high, and there are a lot of people, especially in the U.S., who have no experience with these vaccine-preventable illnesses," Deese said.
Deese said there are large pockets of unvaccinated people in the New River Valley, which means a disease outbreak could happen in southwest Virginia.
"Measles is only potentially an airline flight away from hitting this community, so I urge people to go get their vaccines," Deese said.
Virginia does allow vaccine exemptions for religious and medical reasons. Deese said both the web and social media have made it harder for families to decipher between fact and fiction when it comes to vaccines.
"There is a lot of misinformation out there," Deese said. "It's an uphill battle for us, as public health professionals, to try to get the right information out there."
The CDC also says the rise in measles cases is tied to an increase in the number of travelers who get measles abroad and bring it into the U.S.
Right now Washington state has at least 35 confirmed cases of measles.