WNC Health Officials On Alert As Measles Hovers Nearby

May 2, 2019

This week, US Health officials announced there are just over 700 reported measles cases across the country.  That’s the most cases in 25 years and a major source of frustration for public health officials since measles was declared eliminated in this country back in 2000.  Twenty-two states have reported cases, North Carolina has not yet made the list –but state health officials, especially here in Buncombe County, are on alert. BPR’s Helen Chickering has details.

At a recent infectious disease conference in Asheville, public health practitioners and health officials gathered to discuss the latest prevention and treatment strategies.  Woven throughout almost every presentation and conversation was the looming threat of the Measles.

I think the conversation is, it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when and it is particularly concerning in our community, because of our exemption rate “says Buncombe County Health director Jan Shepard.   Buncombe County has the highest religious vaccine exemption rate in the state 5.7 percent – among kindergarten students.   Statewide the rate is just over 1 percent.

“The first thing to point out is that we actually have good vaccine coverage rates in NC and even nationwide compared to a lot of other places,”   says Dr. Zack Moore, North Carolina’s state epidemiologist.  What concerns him are unvaccinated pockets in places like Buncombe County.  Moore notes Measles is highly contagious, and with cases looming in nearby George and Tennessee

“The concern and what we’re seeing in New York, and Washington,  and in other parts of the country is that when you do have these pockets   with lower (vaccination) rates – somebody with disease – gets introduced into the community it can become hard to control and see lot of illnesses, including severe illness. “

Last year, local health officials created an immunization coalition made up of community members, school staff and health practitioners in hopes of reversing the vaccine exemption trend, a campaign that has taken on a sense of urgency as measles knocks on the door.  I’m Helen Chickering, BPR News

According to the Centers for Disease Control,  the virus is spread by coughing and sneezing and symptoms which include everything from a dry cough and fever to the trademark rash – often don’t appear until 10 to 14 days after exposure.