Sea-Tac airport in 2016.

Apparently the novel coronavirus won't spur the only vaccine talk this November. On Wednesday, Public Health—Seattle and King County announced an investigation into a confirmed case of measles and its potential spread in the area.

The afflicted King County resident passed through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport late on November 5 and may have exposed others to the highly contagious virus before his diagnosis. The local public health authority believes the traveler, described as a male child in a press release, contracted measles outside of the U.S. But anyone at Gate N-11 or Carousel 13 in baggage claim between 10pm and 12:30am that night was at risk of contact with an illness that includes a telltale rash, high fever, and red, watery eyes.

That is, if they weren't up-to-date on doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. "Most people in our area have immunity to the measles through vaccination, so the risk to the general public is low," Public Health—Seattle and King County notes. But even those who think they're protected and were in the aforementioned risk areas of the airport should reach out to a health care provider if they develop, or have developed, an illness with fever or unexplained rash (don't visit without calling to describe your symptoms first). And Public Health says it's not too late to get vaccinated if you fear you've been exposed: "Vaccination or medication can be given after exposure in some cases to prevent illness—check with your healthcare provider. This is especially important for people at high risk for measles complications."

Measles has been a persistent problem in Washington state. In 2019, 87 measles cases were reported statewide, including 13 in King County. This, even though the MMR vaccine is roughly 95 percent effective at preventing the illness. Simply put: Not enough children get vaccinated in this region of the country.

The good news is that the coronavirus pandemic may be changing some vaccine skeptics' minds. When I spoke to Dr. Douglas Opel of Seattle Children's for this story about a potential coronavirus vaccine, he noted that a very small group of parents can have an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude toward diseases that demand vaccinations in normal times. Now, amid a public health catastrophe, they can't. "I've gotten kids who, previously their parents were reluctant and refused or delayed vaccines, [who] now want to get caught up on everything a child is due for," the pediatrician says, "so that they can feel as protected with the available vaccines we do have, as we deal with the pandemic. So absolutely, this gives me optimism."

At least there's that. If you want more information on measles and our latest brush with it, King County has you covered.

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