State health officials have declared an “emergency public health threat” in northwest Iowa’s Clay County and measles vaccination clinics are underway in Spencer this morning.

A child there is diagnosed with measles and “hundreds” of people may’ve been exposed. Iowa epidemiologist Dr. Patricia Quinlisk says measles spreads easily and can cause serious illness and even death.

“People can go into pneumonia, meningitis, and unfortunately, it does kill a couple people out of every thousand, even here in the United States with good access to medical care,” Quinlisk says.

“That’s why we consider this disease to be such a serious threat and why we really jump on it and try make sure that we get people vaccinated or get them immune globulin so they will not get sick.”

Quinlisk says the unidentified child is an Iowa native and -is- expected to survive. She says the child was very active in recent days and may have exposed a wide number of people in the Spencer area to measles. “We’re just saying in the hundreds, we believe,” Quinlisk says.

“We’re hoping that most of those people are fully vaccinated and therefore, the vaccine will protect them. Of course, we’re always concerned about the people who aren’t vaccinated or perhaps were only partially vaccinated. We like people to have two doses of this vaccine, not just one, or somebody in whom the vaccine didn’t take. That’s very rare, but it can happen.”

The child made several stops in the Spencer area over the weekend where people may’ve been exposed, including to: a soccer complex, two churches, a grocery store, a fast food restaurant, a nursing home, the Spencer Walmart and the Spencer Hospital emergency room. Quinlisk says vaccines are being offered for people who need them, but there’s a wrinkle.

“One of the problems is, we start running out of time,” she says. “You have to get the vaccine or the immune globulin within a very specific amount of time after the time that you were exposed, otherwise, basically, it won’t do you any good and that’s the reason we like people to be vaccinated beforehand.”

Anyone who may’ve been exposed should check to make sure they got two M-M-R (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccines. People older than their mid-50s who know they had measles as a child don’t need the shot. The symptoms of measles include: fever, cough, red/pink eyes, runny nose and a rash.

“Some people with measles will only have some of those symptoms and that’s why we also want people to be out there and alert,” Quinlisk says. “If you start having some of these symptoms, call your doctor or health care provider. We do not want somebody going to an E-R or a clinic and sitting in a waiting room and exposing people there.”

Quinlisk says it’s been several years since a case of measles has been found in Iowa, though there are also outbreaks now in Maryland and Pennsylvania.