- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2016

PORT ANGELES, Wash. (AP) - A Port Angeles, Washington, woman who died in 2015 from a measles infection was the first to have a fatal case of the virus in the U.S. since 2003.

The Seattle Times reports (https://goo.gl/189Mk4 ) death records say Catherine J. Montantes, 28, died of pneumonia caused by the measles. Montantes, who had a rare inflammatory muscle disease called dermatomyositis, was a former dental hygienist and a college student.

People with underlying health conditions are more susceptible to lethal pneumonia, a common side effect of measles, said Dr. Manisha Patel, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Immunocompromised hosts are complicated,” Patel said. “Even if they’re vaccinated, they may be susceptible.”

Montantes’ infection wasn’t found until after an autopsy, according to health officials, who said she was exposed to the measles virus along with almost three dozen people at the Lower Elwha Health Clinic in late January of 2015. A 52-year-old man who visited the clinic was later confirmed as Clallam County’s first measles case in 20 years.

Montantes did not have symptoms typical of measles such as a rash, but the virus was in a blood sample collected in February, according to emails obtained by The Seattle Times. Around six weeks later, she got sick and went to Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles on March 19. She was then sent to the University of Washington Medical Center on March 26, where she died on April 8.

There were 189 people infected with measles in the U.S. last year including 11 in Washington state. In 2014, there were 667 reported measles cases. Four people have reported measles infections in the country this year.

Montantes was born in Juneau, Alaska and was funny, strong and fiercely protective of her three siblings, according to family members. Her mother, Ralphenia Knudson, said Montantes was “just a real go getter.”

“Whatever Cathy sought to achieve, she would find ways to achieve it,” she said. Knudson, 53, lives in Juneau.

Montantes was studying criminal justice and hoped to become a border-patrol officer, her family said. She was also a dental hygienist and last practiced in Arkansas.

“I am in awe and amazed by everything that young lady survived and went through,” Knudson said. “Her strength that I saw was amazing.”

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