Eateries exposed to measles dealt ‘nightmare scenario’

A measles, mumps and rubella vaccine at a pediatrics clinic. (AP photo/Eric Risberg, File)

A few local business owners were greeted early this week with news their eateries were exposed to measles the previous week.

“It’s a nightmare scenario because people can get real freaked out by something like this and stay away from the business because they’re afraid and they don’t know the facts,” said Troy Potter, owner of The Bier Stein, a pub and bottle shop on Willamette Street in Eugene.

The Oregon Health Authority shared news of several exposure sites across the state, four of which — including The Bier Stein — were in Lane County. Other potential exposure sites included the Creswell Bakery in Creswell and Blu Mist Restaurant and Bar and North Fork Public House in Eugene. The potential exposure was tracked to a Lane County resident traveling from Amsterdam.

While the eateries no longer pose a health risk, the purpose of identifying potential exposure sites is to let customers who are not vaccinated know so they can consult their doctor. The infection can take between one and three weeks to show symptoms.

Although sharing information may have unintended consequences for businesses, experts find it’s important to let the public know about potential exposure to the measles.

On average, one case of influenza results in two new cases, whereas measles typically produces 16 to 18 new cases for each confirmed case, said Lane County Public Health spokesperson Jason Davis in a previous interview with The Register-Guard. This particular outbreak has caused three confirmed cases of measles in the state so far, according the OHA.

“Measles is a huge deal,” Davis said. “In terms of communicability, how readily a disease is transferred, on a scale of 1 to 10, this would be an 11.”

Businesses are given a courtesy call before OHA statements are released, said OHA spokesperson Delia ­Hernández. However, some restaurant owners said they weren’t given much warning before learning their business had been exposed to measles.

“We learned about all this just like everybody else did: on the news,” said Heidi Tunnell, owner of Creswell Bakery. “So if there’s any way I could have safeguarded against it I obviously would have, but if I don’t know, I don’t know.”

In accordance with OHA guidelines, restaurant owners are checking to determine if their employees are vaccinated and letting patrons know when they may have been exposed. They are urging patrons and employees to contact their health care provider if they feel any symptoms.

Unlike some disease outbreaks, measles does not spread through food.

“You can cough it out and it hangs in the air for up to two hours,” said Catherine Kroll, director for Infection Prevention at PeaceHealth. “Other bacteria and viruses, you cough them out and they immediately fall out of the air because they’re heavier.”

Kroll said there’s nothing especially important about the possible infection sites being restaurants for this reason.

“It’s not about eating it. It’s all about breathing it in,” Kroll said.

Most Oregonians have been vaccinated against measles, and their risk of contracting the infection is low. Risk is higher for unvaccinated patrons and employees of Creswell Bakery, The Bier Stein, Blu Mist or North Fork Public House.

While all restaurants should be measles-free at this time, Potter, owner of Bier Stein, decided to take extra precautions when he found out the restaurant was exposed.

“Everyone here (employed at Bier Stein) is vaccinated. We’ve cleaned all the cooler doors off, we’ve had a cleaning crew, we’re just trying to be proactive, we’re doing stuff above and beyond, but we probably have to just to put everyone’s mind at ease,” Potter said.

He said employees were being looked at by Lane County Public Health officials, and the full impacts of the exposure may not be know until further in the week.

“It hasn’t really affected business yet,” Potter said.

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