A Clallam County woman died of a measles infection three months ago, health officials said on Thursday, making her the first person to die of measles in Washington state in 25 years.
She was the first person to die in the U.S. in 12 years.
Officials are withholding her age to protect her identity, but they did say she was not elderly.
They say she was likely exposed at a local medical facility. She was there at the same time as another patient who later developed a rash and other symptoms of a measles infection. Clallam County, on the north tip of the Olympic Peninsula, was in the midst of an outbreak at the time.
The woman showed no symptoms commonly attributed to measles, but health officials said she had other medical conditions that lowered her immune system and made her susceptible to the disease.
The infection wasn’t discovered until an autopsy was conducted. The cause of death was pneumonia due to measles. She died at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle after being treated initially in Clallam County.
To date there have been 11 reported cases of measles in Washington state, including six in Clallam County. The last active case was in April. Health officials say there is no immediate risk from this recent case, but they’re urging people to get vaccinated.
The case was not related to an outbreak that started in December at Disneyland, according to state health officials. It was a separate strain, they said. The Disneyland outbreak sickened more than 140 people in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
Health officials say that the best way to prevent measles is by getting vaccinated.
KUOW investigated vaccination rates at Seattle and King County schools last fall and found that up to 44 percent of students at certain private schools had not received at least one vaccine. Most of the parents listed personal reasons for not vaccinating their children.
The decision to forego vaccines is more common in North Seattle than other parts of the city. Many in this wealthier part of the city omit some vaccines and introduce others more slowly than health officials recommend.
It’s a trend reflected nationwide, said Paul Throne of the state Office of Immunization and Child Profile when interviewed by KUOW in 2013.
“They have confidence interpreting data for themselves,” Throne said of these higher income, better educated parents. “A physician’s recommendation may carry no greater weight than their friend’s recommendation.”
Measles and polio vaccines were most commonly waived by parents.
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KUOW's Isolde Raftery and The Associated Press contributed to this report.