A 9-year-old Vancouver boy infected with measles wasn’t vaccinated because his parents feared he would have an allergic reaction, the boy’s father said this week.
Health officials haven’t identified the source of the outbreak or any connections between those infected. Most of those with the measles are unvaccinated children, spurring a push by infectious disease specialists to encourage parents to vaccinate their kids. Washington allows parents to opt out if they have religious, philosophical or medical reasons.
In this case, the father agreed to an interview to help illuminate the issue and explain his family’s situation. He asked not to be named for medical confidentiality reasons.
The boy’s father, in his 40s, moved from Kyrgyzstan to Washington with his wife and two daughters in 2002. The boy and another daughter were born in the United States.
The family isn’t opposed to vaccines, the father said, pointing out that all three of the boy’s sisters are vaccinated. The boy has had severe hay fever, he said, and the family feared that getting him vaccinated would make him feel worse.
The father said he’ll get the boy vaccinated going forward and wasn’t aware of the seriousness of the disease.
“Of course I regret this happened. One always thinks, ‘Better that I get sick than my child,’” he said.
Public Exposure Locations:
Map by David Cansler. Source: Clark County Public Health.
The vast majority of vaccine exemptions in Clark County schools are for personal or philosophical reasons, Washington immunization data show. Medical exemptions are usually limited to children undergoing chemotherapy or other treatments that weaken their immune systems, according to public health officials.
Vaccines pose no risk to children with hay fever, said Dawn Nolt, an expert in child infections at Oregon Health and Science University. Some children are allergic to components in vaccines, but having an allergy to pollen doesn’t mean a child is any more likely to be allergic to a vaccine, she said.
Measles is a highly contagious and potentially deadly disease. An infection can lead to pneumonia, brain swelling and blindness. Out of every 1,000 people infected with the virus, one to two die.
The vaccine is 97 percent effective and can reduce the risk of infection if received within 72 hours of exposure to the virus.
It’s unclear if the boy infected anybody else. People can transmit the disease starting about four days before the measles rash first appears and up to about five days after. The boy went to school for one day before he started feeling sick, his parents said. That was four days before they first saw a rash on his face.
Andrey Dolbinin, director of the Vancouver private school Slavic Christian Academy, said none of the other students at the school have gotten sick, including the four children in the boy’s class who he said are unvaccinated.
The father said he doesn’t know where or when the boy caught the virus but pointed to a Dec. 23 gathering at the Church of Truth as a possibility. The pentecostal church had an event for kids that day, he said, where children watched plays depicting scenes from the Bible.
Clark County Public Health listed the Church of Truth as a possible exposure site for anyone who went there on Saturday, Jan. 6. More than 50 places, including Portland International Airport, 15 schools and child care centers, and a Trail Blazers game are on the list.
The family rarely left the house during the holidays, the father said, except for a few shopping trips and an outing to an empty park on Mount Hood.
The boy went to Slavic Christian Academy for the first school day of the year on Jan. 7, then started feeling unwell, his father said. The boy was feeling weak, he said, and the family decided to keep him home. At the time, the family assumed he had a cold or the flu.
On Jan. 11, the parents saw a rash on the boy’s face. The mother had rubella as a child, and they assumed that’s what their son had. They didn’t take him to the hospital or immediately consult with a doctor, treating him at home instead.
Rubella, also called “German measles,” has milder symptoms and is less infectious than measles.
The boy spent most of his time in bed sleeping. The parents would take turns reading aloud to him, the father said, including children’s stories by Leo Tolstoy and stories based on the Bible for children.
The parents took the boy to a doctor Jan. 17 because he had a temperature around 104 degrees and a severe cough. The doctors took a blood sample and called back two days later to say that the boy had measles but was no longer contagious.
The boy stayed home another week to fully recover and went back to school this week.
Molly Harbarger contributed to this report.
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