Measles death in Washington state is first in U.S. in 12 years

Measles led to the death of a Washington state woman this spring, marking the first time in 12 years someone in the United States has been killed as a result of the disease, public health officials said.

The Clallam County woman died in April of pneumonia due to measles, Donn Moyer, a spokesman for the Washington state Department of Health, told the Los Angeles Times. The woman's name, age and exact date of death were not released.

The woman was probably exposed to the disease in January while visiting a clinic, Moyer said.

She had other health conditions that masked measles symptoms, Moyer said, and she did not have a rash, which is a common symptom. She was also on medications that weakened her immune system, he said.

Other people also caught measles at the same clinic, he said. The exact number is unclear, but Moyer said there had been 11 cases statewide this year, six of those in Clallam County on the Olympic Peninsula.

Dying from measles is “very rare,” Moyer emphasized. The last death from the disease in Washington state was in 1990, he said.

The last active case of measles in the state was reported in late April, and because no one has reported symptoms since then, it is believed there will be no further developments, Moyer said. Symptoms manifest within three weeks of exposure if a person has contracted the disease.

Other states saw a slew of measles cases in recent months: The disease made a resurgence after a December outbreak that started at Disneyland.

So far this year, 178 people from 24 states and the District of Columbia have been diagnosed with measles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 117 cases, or 66%, were linked to the Disneyland outbreak. 

Last year, more than 600 people in the United States contracted the virus, according to the CDC. 

An analysis released in March by a team of infectious disease experts showed that the California-centered measles outbreak spread in part because of parents who chose not to vaccinate their children.

On Tuesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed one of the most far-reaching vaccination laws in the nation. The new law bars religious and other personal-belief exemptions for schoolchildren.

Mississippi and West Virginia are the only other states that ban vaccination waivers based on religion. 

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