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Varied measles vaccination rates leave room for concern

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The measles outbreak in northern Oregon and Washington has infected dozens, leading some to wonder if southern Oregon is safe.

Measles can be a challenging disease to stop once it starts. Jackson County hasn't seen a case in more than a decade, but the county's public health department is on watch.

“It’s one of the most contagious diseases we know of," says Jim Shames, Health Officer for Jackson County Public Health.

Measles can be spread airborne or by contact, and has an incubation period of days to weeks, meaning right now, you could have the virus and not even know it. When symptoms begin, the disease can look like many others. An infected person may experience a cough or a runny nose. From there, a fever and rash spreading from the neck area is common.

Jackson County is keeping an eye out for residents showing signs of the disease. “We have no measles in this county right now. We are concerned because there is a lot of measles up north and the disease is easily transported and transmitted," Shames says.

Logos Public Charter School recently traveled to the affected area on a field trip.

They visited the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry four days after an infected person had done the same.

"We're definitely watching out to see if students are coming in with any signs or symptoms," says Logos Office Manager Shawna Pratt. "We want to make sure that we're giving information out to our parents if we're seeing anything and keeping all of our kids safe."

They do have the third lowest Measles immunization rate at 79 percent , after John Muir School at 58 percent and the Siskiyou School at 29 percent. Most others in the county sit above 90 percent. However, overall, Logos say they're not too worried, and have encouraged parents to take proper action if there is reason to be concerned.

At Jewett Elementary in Central Point, some parents expressed concerned on social media that students had been exposed at school. The source of the initial concern is unknown, but the school sent out a statement to parents denying its validity and expressing a commitment to the health of its students if a situation like that were to arise.

"We spoke with the health department this morning," Principal Maggie Staley said. "We follow their guidelines, and so if there was a case where a student of ours that had contracted a contagious disease, they'd notify us immediately and then we can notify families immediately."

At Jewett Elementary, the measles vaccination rate is 95 percent. That high of a figure makes it highly unlikely measles could affect its students, even for the 5 percent that are not vaccinated.

Public Health Officer Jim Shames encourages vaccination, noting that the county does well overall in that regard, but pockets remain where parents aren't vaccinating their children.

"It's an illness you don't want your child to get," Shames says. "We have accessibility of a safe way of preventing it and now would be the time to do that."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the measles vaccine is 93% effective after one dose, and 97% effective after the second.

If you can't schedule an appointment with your doctor, Jackson County Public Health offers the shot, as do urgent care clinics.

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