Feb 12, 2015, 1:24pm PST UPDATED: Feb 12, 2015, 4:56pm PST Annie Zak, Staff Writer-Puget Sound Business Journal The Puget Sound region's economy could be at risk – not because of a bank failure or real estate bust – but instead, because the number of unvaccinated children combined with a measles outbreak just two states south that could have an enormous economic impact by at least temporarily wiping out a chunk of the workforce. A measles outbreak in California is the most recent result of that state's high number of children left unvaccinated against preventable disease. But Seattle is susceptible to an outbreak, too. In fact, it's already happening. An infected traveler came through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in January and there have already been four confirmed cases of measles in Washington state as of last week. In King and Snohomish counties, the amount of unvaccinated kids exceeds 10 percent at more than 85 schools. The potential outbreak in the Puget Sound region is more than a health concern. The spread of measles or other preventable diseases could result in a ripple effect that could directly impact the local economy. If schools close to protect children from getting sick and parents then have to stay home, that could rack up a lot of missed days at work. Costs to the public health system and hospitals can also easily spiral out of control. This is something that King County's chief of communicable disease Jeff Duchin has seen and studied before, especially during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009 and 2010. That outbreak caused several local schools to close temporarily. "It was a real problem because parents have to figure out what to do with the kids and that's a big economic impact," said Duchin, who is also a professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health. People with infected children usually have to stay home from work to take care of them because the kids can't be dropped off at daycare. Unvaccinated children can be excluded from school for up to 21 days from the date of their last exposure to the illness. That can be an even bigger impact on a parent who doesn't have sick leave or personal days. Several studies have examined the economic impact of measles and its possible eradication. One study from 1998 found that if the U.S. eradicated measles by 2010, it could result in savings of between $500 million and $4.1 billion. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considered measles eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. The U.S. experienced 23 measles outbreaks in 2014 and most of the people infected in this current outbreak were unvaccinated. Another study from 2010 found that the public sector paid $10,376 per case during a 2008 measles outbreak in San Diego, where many of the infected were intentionally unvaccinated. The families of the unvaccinated children paid about $775 per child to quarantine their kids. A study forthcoming in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal also found a single measles case cost more than $8,000 in the case of an unvaccinated adolescent at a pediatric clinic, Duchin said. Health care costs related to testing a child for an illness, making a diagnosis, treating exposed people and visits to emergency rooms and urgent care also skyrocket quickly during outbreaks. "There's also huge amounts of hours spent trying to track down who's been exposed and track their care," Duchin said, "and that's extremely labor-intensive and high cost." While King County's vaccination rate is about 90 percent, which Duchin said is good overall, it's the pockets of unvaccinated children together in places like schools and daycares that are worrisome. There are efforts at a state level to stem the number of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, has proposed a bill that would no longer allow a parent not to vaccinate his or her child based on personal beliefs. The bill would still allow vaccine exemptions based on religious beliefs or under advisement from a doctor that the child shouldn't be vaccinated. Annie Zak covers the health care and biotechnology industries.
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