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Vaccines vital to preventing measles outbreak in Arizona, agency says

(Pixabay Photo)

PHOENIX — A measles outbreak in the U.S. Northwest that has sickened at least 35 people has some people wondering — could it affect Arizona?

Jessica Rigler, assistant director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, told KTAR News 92.3 FM there’s no indication state residents should be worried.

“Measles is a highly contagious disease, so if you’re not vaccinated against the measles virus, and you come into contact with someone who is sick with measles, there’s a very high likelihood that you will become sick as well,” she said.

“However, here in Arizona, at this time, we are not aware of anyone who has had exposure to anyone in Washington who’s been ill with measles.”

Most of the people sick with measles in Washington and Oregon are children under age 10, and there are 11 more suspected cases yet to be confirmed.

Rigler said in 2017 and 2018, no Arizona residents had measles.

Last summer, an infected out-of-state visitor to Sedona did expose some Arizonans to the virus, she said, but no one got sick.

The state experienced its last outbreak in 2016, when there were 31 cases confirmed between May and August.

Measles vaccination is required for children to enter school in Arizona, but parents may file a personal belief exemption to prevent their children from having to get it.

“The best way to protect yourself against the measles is to get the measles shot. That shot is actually recommended in early childhood, and so hopefully a lot of people are already protected from measles, ” she said.

“However, if you’re not protected, if your child doesn’t have the measles shot, now’s the time to go visit your doctor to ask if it’s time for them to get that shot.”

Measles can start by showing common symptoms like a fever, cough, runny or stuffy nose and red eyes, she said.

After that, a rash that is not itchy usually starts at the hairline and moves down the body.

“If you have a child that you think has been exposed to measles and has developed symptoms, it’s important to call your doctor’s office before you go in, just to make sure you don’t expose anyone in the waiting room to the disease,” she said.

Rigler said measles is highly contagious to both adults and children, and it can lead to hospitalization, brain swelling and death.

“Diseases, particularly diseases like measles, are only a plane ride away,” she said.

“It only takes one infected person to enter the state of Arizona and cause an outbreak here in this state, and that’s why it’s important that everyone be vaccinated.”

The Associated Press and KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ashley Flood contributed to this report. 

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