By LORI KERSEY
CHARLESTON - While measles outbreaks have been reported in five states, West Virginia health officials say strong immunization laws have prevented cases of the disease in the Mountain State in recent years.
West Virginia hasn't had a confirmed case of measles since 2009, said Shannon McBee, an outbreak epidemiologist at the state Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology.
"We've got extremely strong immunization laws here in West Virginia," McBee said. "Some of the best in the nation."
About 90% of West Virginia's 2-year-olds have received a measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, McBee said.
West Virginia requires children enrolling in public, private or parochial schools or a state-regulated child care facility to be vaccinated against chickenpox, hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, mumps, diphtheria, polio, rubella, tetanus and whooping cough.
The state does not allow religious or philosophical exemptions for vaccines. Approved medical exemptions to vaccine requirements are "few and far between," McBee said.
Requests for medical exemptions are submitted to the Bureau for Public Health, which reviews them with a clinician and determines whether to grant them, McBee said.
This year as of April 4, 465 cases of measles have been confirmed in 19 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Outbreaks - defined as three or more cases - have been confirmed in New York, California, Washington, New Jersey and Michigan.
Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, about 3 million to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States, according to the CDC. Of those, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized and 4,000 developed brain swelling.
McBee said the state has received several calls from concerned citizens and clinicians recently about suspected measles cases, but none so far have even warranted testing. McBee says the confusion is probably because doctors here don't see many measles cases.
"There's still a lot of education that needs to be done with our clinical providers across the state to provide some current education about the clinical presentation of measles, proper diagnosis and recognition of the disease and available laboratory testing," she said.
Outbreaks in other states have been linked to international travelers to countries like Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines, where large outbreaks are happening, according to the CDC.
"They get the disease because they're unvaccinated, and they travel back to their town or state and further transmission goes on within their community," McBee said.
As a state that's not as ethnically diverse as other states, West Virginia may not have as much international travel, she said.
People with questions and those who want to report a suspected case of measles can call the Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at 304-558-5358 or 800-423-1271.