TWIN FALLS — South Central Public Health District’s Tanis Maxwell had never encountered a confirmed case of the measles — let alone an outbreak — here in Idaho.
But after working side by side in February with Clark County, Washington’s public health district officials to help control the area’s measles outbreak, the epidemiology program manager gained valuable information to bring back to south-central Idaho.
“We want to be prepared as a health district to respond to an outbreak like they had in Washington,” Maxwell said Thursday, and to protect the community and prevent disease from spreading.
Maxwell spent about two weeks — from Feb. 4 to Feb. 17 — at Clark County Public Health. The agency has confirmed 65 measles cases in Clark County since Jan. 1 and is currently investigating four possible cases, according to a Thursday announcement on its website.
After Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued a state of emergency in late January due to the measles outbreak, Clark County Public Health sought help from Idaho public health districts. Maxwell and a nurse from the Panhandle Health District in northern Idaho agreed to spend time in Clark County.
Maxwell was on a case investigation team.
“We dealt with the confirmed cases and the household contacts,” she said.
The team facilitated testing for suspected cases of the measles, made calls to households and medical providers, and helped assist medical providers in whether to test certain patients for the measles.
When a family had a confirmed case of measles in their household, public health officials educated them on the symptoms and what to watch for.
If a family member couldn’t prove their immunity to measles, they were told to stay home and be monitored for 21 days.
The health district told family members to either provide their immunization records or undergo a blood draw to show they’re immune to measles if they couldn’t recall whether they’d received the vaccine.
“It’s really important to know if you’re immune or not,” Maxwell said.
Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But due to pockets of the population that haven’t received the vaccine, some areas of the country — like Clark County — have seen outbreaks in recent years.
Measles is highly contagious and is spread through the air by breathing, sneezing and coughing, according to the CDC. Symptoms can include a rash, runny nose, cough, fever up to 104 degrees and red watery eyes. Complications can include pneumonia, convulsions, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and death.
Idaho children are required to receive certain immunizations in order to enroll in school. But parents can fill out a state exemption form if they choose not to immunize their child. They must cite a reason for their decision, such as a philosophical, medical or religious objection.