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Jan. 25, 2012
TOPEKA At least six cases of measles have been confirmed this month in Finney County.
“We just had our sixth case confirmed this morning,” Finney County Health Department Director Ashley Goss said today. “I’m waiting to hear back on at least two more.”
The confirmed and yet-to-be-confirmed cases include adults and children.
“Measles is an extremely contagious disease,” Goss said. “Babies are very, very vulnerable in this because they have to be 12 to 15 months old before they’re vaccinated. They're pretty much defenseless.
“Pneumonia is one of the biggest things we look for” people to develop after a measles diagnosis, she said.
The situation, Goss said, is complicated because carriers can be contagious for two to three days before they realize they’re ill.
“The biggest challenge has been getting people to recognize that if they’re sick or if they have a fever, they need to stay home and not expose other people,” Goss said. “But you know how it is. We’re all programmed to think we have to go to work no matter what.”
Symptoms include fever, runny nose, watery eyes, fatigue, coughing and a rash that starts at the head and moves down the body.
The outbreak, Goss said, was first detected Jan. 3. The initial two cases were from the same family, which had recently traveled outside the country. Four additional cases — two from the same household and two from outside — have since been identified.
Officials from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced in a news release today that "all cases have been epidemiologically linked by documented contact."
KDHE Secretary Dr. Robert Moser said anyone with a fever should stay home except to see a health care provider.
"If you need to seek health care, call ahead so appropriate measures can be taken to protect other patients and staff,” said Moser.
Earlier this week, Goss said she spoke with a young mother whose baby had been exposed to measles. “I had to tell her that she had to quarantine her baby for 21 days,” she said. “When we finished talking, she was in tears because she knew she had no alternative. She was going to have to miss work for 21 days.”
Goss said the mother was employed but had not accumulated 21 days of sick leave.
“A lot of parents in her situation don’t have that much sick leave built up,” she said. “And a lot of employers don’t offer it anyway. So an outbreak like this really creates a financial hardship for those who get caught up in it.”
The outbreak coincided with testimony last week to a legislative committee about a bill that would ease state laws that require parents to immunize their children.
Goss and other public health officials oppose the bill.
“I plan on writing every member of that committee a letter, letting them know what we’ve been through,” she said. “The amount of man hours it takes to respond to something like this is horrendous. Since this started, we’ve had four to six dedicated employees on the phone all day, contacting people, making sure they know the signs and the symptoms.”
The committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said the bill has garnered little support among legislators.
“I don’t think it has enough votes to get out of committee,” she said Tuesday.