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Phoenix area at high risk for measles outbreak, according to new study

PHOENIX – Maricopa County continues to be a high-risk area for a measles outbreak, in part because of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, according to a new research paper.

The Phoenix area has the country’s sixth-highest current risk for an outbreak of the highly contagious disease, according to the study published last week in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.

The only counties ranked ahead of Maricopa were, in order, the metro regions surrounding Chicago; Los Angeles; Miami; Queens, New York; and Seattle.

Measles, which has been eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, has been spreading in the U.S. at levels not seen in decades.

The Valley is a high-risk area despite not having any cases this year.

The paper cites two main factors in assessing risk: international travel from countries experiencing outbreaks and low vaccination rates that result from non-medical exemptions.

Phoenix checks both of those boxes, with Sky Harbor one of the nation’s busiest international airports and Arizona one of 18 states that allow non-medical exemptions based on personal or philosophical beliefs, not just religious beliefs.

“These outbreaks can only happen if someone brings measles into the country and there’s a low vaccination rate in a population,” Lauren Gardner, a co-author on the study, told CNN.

She told the cable network the study was the first to include international travel patterns in its analysis.

Maricopa County’s high risk is nothing new. The study analyzed data since 2011, and the Valley was ranked either fourth, fifth or sixth each year.

As of May 10, there had been 839 measles cases reported in the U.S. in 2019, already the most in a year since 1994.

Of the 45 counties that have reported cases this year, 30 were among the new study’s top 25 at-risk areas or adjacent to a county in the top 25.

There has been only one case in Arizona so far, a Pima County infant who was diagnosed in March.

Additionally, the public was exposed to a contagious traveler at Tucson International Airport last month, although there haven’t been any reports of the illness spreading.

Symptoms of measles, which include high fever, cough, runny nose, red watery eyes and a rash, usually start seven to 12 days after exposure but could take up to 21 days to appear.

“If you are not immunized, now is a great time to go get your measles-mumps-rubella vaccine,” Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, told KTAR News 92.3 FM earlier this month.

“If you are unsure, talk to your health care provider because they can usually walk through to determine if you have a high likelihood that you’ve been vaccinated.”

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