Washington state's measles outbreak is becoming a public health crisis and Alaska health officials are urging steps to keep it from spreading here.

There are now 36 confirmed cases in Washington, according to that state's Department of Health, largely in areas with low vaccination rates. All but one of the cases, in King County, have been found in Clark County.

There have been no confirmed cases connected to the outbreak in Alaska, and epidemiologists with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) want it to stay that way. 

Measles is a highly infectious viral respiratory disease that spreads through the air, as well as by direct contact with respiratory secretions.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says symptoms including high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes appear one to two weeks after exposure. Tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth before a measles rash — small, red bumps joined together — breaks out from the hairline to the rest of the body. Patients may suffer fever temperatures which spike to more than 104 degrees.

With so many people traveling between Alaska and Washington, DHSS is concerned it won't be long until the virus makes its way to the 49th state.

"You can die of measles and if you are very young or pregnant you can have worse outcomes, so it's something we want to prevent," said Alaska's state epidemiologist, Louisa Castrodale. "We don't want people to be sick with measles, not only because they can pass it to someone else, but because it can be a really severe health condition for themselves."

DHSS officials are urging Alaskans to be up-to-date with their measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccinations, be aware of measles symptoms, and contact a physician if they think they have the disease.

The Oregon Health Authority has also confirmed a case of measles linked to Washington's Clark County outbreak, prompting DHSS to warn Alaskans who travel between those two states.

"Persons who have recently traveled to or have visited various public venues within Washington State and Portland, Oregon may be at risk of contracting measles if they are not up-to-date on their [MMR] vaccination," Alaska health officials wrote in a Tuesday public health alert.

DHSS officials say the outbreak is a textbook example of why it's critical to vaccinate against measles, the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in the world.

"We want to alert people to checking their vaccination status, making sure they are protected and let them know about the risks for exposure in those areas," Castrodale said. 

According to Castrodale, the recommended two-dose series of MMR vaccine is approximately 97 percent effective against the disease. 

More information about the MMR vaccine and what to do you if you think have measles can be found on the DHSS measles website.

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