CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As numbers of confirmed measles cases continued to climb in parts of the United States, a West Virginia health statistic was holding as of early April.
“Thankfully, West Virginia’s got extremely strong immunization laws that protect our citizens and, as a result, we’ve not had a confirmed case of measles (in the Mountain State) since 2009,” said Shannon McBee, epidemiologist for the state Bureau for Public Health.
By Wednesday, measles cases nationwide had climbed to 465, the second-highest year since 2000 when the disease was declared eradicated in the U.S.
In many instances, McBee said the growing numbers of cases involved people who had traveled abroad or were not vaccinated for the measles.
There have been outbreaks in California, Michigan and New Jersey, but about two-thirds of the existing cases were reported among mostly children in New York City.
Since last fall, 285 cases of the measles had been confirmed in New York City, according to city officials. That’s up from a case number of two in 2017.
In response, New York City officials have threatened to fine people who do not get vaccinated for the measles as ordered in four specified zip codes, including those in largely Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods.
There are exceptions to that order allowed for kids under the age of six months.
A highly-contagious virus causes measles, also called rubeola, which can lead to serious illness and even death in kids.
Symptoms include fever, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, inflamed eyes and a skin rash made up of large, flat blotches.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children get two doses of the measles vaccine which is said to be 97 percent effective.
In West Virginia, no child can attend public schools or a state-regulated child care centers if they have not been vaccinated.
Unlike in other states, exemptions to that requirement are few.
“When we do allow for exemptions, we require it be reviewed by a medical professional and then the Bureau of Public Health ultimately signs off on that exemption,” explained McBee.
The state Bureau for Public Health is in the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
McBee estimated West Virginia was in the “Top Five” for school immunization requirements.
“I’m really thankful for the strong laws that we have in place (in West Virginia),” said McBee.