Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines sit in a cooler at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, New York. The MMR vaccine is a two-dose vaccine that typically ensures immunity to measles. (Seth Wenig | Associated Press)

Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines sit in a cooler at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, New York. The MMR vaccine is a two-dose vaccine that typically ensures immunity to measles. (Seth Wenig | Associated Press)

Measles could be getting off the boat in Juneau

Sometimes fatal disease could come to Alaska

Measles coming to Alaska isn’t a far-fetched idea, health care professionals said.

That’s because this year’s tourist season is expected to be particularly busy. This year there have been more cases of measles in the U.S. than in the past 25 years and there are communities around the world in the midst of measles outbreaks.

“In this day and age of frequent travel and international travel, it’s something that should always be on people’s radar,” said Alison Gaines, Public Health Center nurse manager. “With the amount of travelers expected in a season, it would not at all surprise me if we do see some measles in Alaska.”

Measles is a highly contagious virus that can cause fevers, rashes, hospitalizations and in rare cases deaths. There is cruise ship owned by the Church of Scientology that was recently quarantined near the Caribbean island St. Lucia because of a confirmed case of the measles. Last year, measles was found on an Alaska cruise ship, and in the past ships have been hotbeds of norovirus activity.

There have been 704 cases of measles so far this year, Gaines said, and those cases have been spread across 22 states, including Washington, California and Oregon.

In 2019, 1.31 cruise ship passengers are expected to Alaska, according to Cruise Lines International Association Alaska.

Symptoms include fever followed by a rash, red and watery eyes, and recent travelers are encouraged to be extra weary of the disease, said Charlee Gribbon, infection preventionist for Bartlett Regional Hospital.

[Congress attempts to strengthen Roadless Rule]

Measles is highly contagious and spread through the air, said Gribbon and Gaines.

“Measles can last in the air for up to two hours after a person with measles is in the room,” Gaines said.

It can also have a severe impact on people who do catch it.

“It can be quite dangerous actually, particularly to infants, kids and people who are immunocompromised,” Gaines said.

About a quarter of people with measles require hospitalization, Gaines said, and one or two of every thousand measles cases are fatal.

There are a few of things people can do to help prevent the spread of measles.

One, Gaines said, is washing hands regularly, which is helpful for preventing the spread of most diseases.

The other is getting vaccinated.

“The best way to prevent yourself from getting measles is of course getting vaccinated,” Gaines said. “Most of the cases of measles are occurring in unvaccinated people.”

Measles, along with mumps and rubella, is one of the illnesses covered by the MMR vaccine, which is administered in two doses.

The first dose is recommended for children between 1 year and 15 months of age, Gaines said, and the second dose is recommended for children between 4 and 6.

“Ninety-eight percent of the population is immune after they have those two doses, and it’s lifelong,” Gribbon said.

However, Gaines said youths and adults who are not vaccinated could also get the vaccine, which is available to most people over the age of 6 months.

[Squirrel Girl scribe talks working on original creations vs. writing for Marvel and why he keeps coming back to Juneau]

Gribbon said the vaccine typically isn’t costly for people with health insurance, and there are subsidized options supported by the Alaska Vaccine Distribution Program. State of Alaska Public Health Nursing offers all routine childhood vaccines for children between 2 months and 18 years of age.

Gaines said there is a $27.44 administration fee for the MMR, and fees will be assessed on a sliding scale based on family income and size. No one is refused because of inability to pay, she said.

Juneau’s Public Health Center can be called at 465-3353.

Gribbon and Gaines said anyone who is uncertain if they’ve been vaccinated should contact their health care provider to find out.

Odds are good most people have had the vaccine, Gaines said since abut 89 percent of kindergarten-age children in the state have had a dose of the MMR vaccine.

“That’s a little below national average, but still pretty good,” Gaines said.

For those who plan to travel, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vessel Sanitation Program, offers tips for healthy cruising, outbreak updates and sanitation inspection results.

CDC’s tips for healthy cruising advise reporting illness to the ship’s medical facility, which is advice that Gaines also shared.

“If someone thinks they may have the measles, it’s very important to call their health care provider ahead of arrival so that their provider can make arrangements to decrease potential exposure to other people who are in the clinic — for example, they will not want you to wait in the waiting room with others — because measles is so contagious,” Gaines said.


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com . Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


More in News

In this Empire file photo, a Princess Cruise Line ship is seen docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021.(Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire file)
Ships in Port for the week of May 15, 2022

This information comes from the Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska’s 2022 schedule.… Continue reading

Public defender Nicolas Ambrose gestures during a trial centered around a 2019 stabbing May 19, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Prosecution reconstructs events leading to fatal stabbing

Jurors watched multiple angles of the events leading and following the stabbing.

A sign marks the location of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Tourist dies near Mendenhall Glacier

The death is not considered suspicious.

Zuill Bailey performs a cello concert during a music cruise in Auke Bay on Saturday afternoon. (Courtesy Photo)
All that jazz returns to Juneau

Another ‘Classics’ in the books.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Friday, May 20, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Thursday, May 19, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Wednesday, May 18, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Teaser
Judge orders board adopt interim redistricting map

The decision comes in a second round of redistricting challenges.

Smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China’s Shanxi Province on Nov. 28, 2019. A study released on Tuesday, May 17, 2022, blames pollution of all types for 9 million deaths a year globally, with the death toll attributed to dirty air from cars, trucks and industry rising 55% since 2000. (AP Photo / Sam McNeil File)
Study finds global pollution kills 9 million people a year, study finds

Overall pollution deaths in 2019 were about the same as 2015, according to the study.

Most Read