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Measles Outbreak In B.C. Crosses Into U.S.

A big measles outbreak in British Columbia has crossed over the border into the American Northwest.

Health officers in B.C.'s Fraser Valley southeast of Vancouver have confirmed more than 350 cases of measles there since an outbreak started in early March. Six additional cases have now been diagnosed in Washington’s Whatcom County.

The Washington cases include a woman in her 20s who has prompted a region-wide alert. While contagious, she mingled with crowds at a rock concert at Seattle's Key Arena. She also visited Puget Sound tourist attractions such as the Pike Place Market, LeMay Car Museum and Harmon Brewing Company in Tacoma.

Whatcom County Health Officer Greg Stern says this measles outbreak traces back to a religious community in British Columbia's "Bible belt."

"To the extent that people avoid vaccines, they increase both their risk and the risk of the community so that it can take hold. I'm worried about that,” Stern said.

Measles is easily prevented with a vaccine. The symptoms resemble a really bad cold followed by a rash. It can result in serious complications.

Already this year, seven cases of measles have been reported to the state Department of Health, compared to just five over the entire course of last year. In recent years, the Washington and Oregon legislatures have made it harder to get vaccination exemptions for school-age children.

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Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.