Measles scare over for Arizona, but threat remains

The measles scare for Arizona is officially over.

With no new cases appearing during the final incubation period, which ended Friday, Arizona has cleared a hurdle, said Cara Christ, chief medical officer and deputy director for public health at the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“This is a really good place to be at this point,” Christ said. “But that doesn’t mean measles aren’t a plane ride away, especially with spring break coming up. We do have clusters around us.”

New measles cases recently have been reported in Las Vegas and in Orange County in California. To date, measles has infected at least 170 people in 17 states, beginning with an outbreak in Disneyland in mid-December.

Arizona’s first case was reported on Jan. 22. The state had seven confirmed cases in all, stemming from five unvaccinated residents who became infected after visiting Disneyland. Upon returning to Arizona, one of the five infected two other people, one in Maricopa County and one in Pinal County.

Health officials estimated 1,000 people in the state were exposed by the seven who were infected.

They asked those who were exposed who had not had the measles and had not been vaccinated to quarantine themselves for 21 days. Measles symptoms typically appear seven to 21 days after exposure; the virus can linger in the air for up to two hours.

Being able to contain the cases to seven involved hard work by health officials and cooperation from the community, Christ said. It helped, Christ said, that four of the five who visited Disneyland lived in Kearny, a small town. “We were very lucky that it happened in that community, a very well-vaccinated community,” she said. “So that helps keep the disease from spreading.”

Pinal County officials said they don’t know the vaccination rate for adults in Kearny, but 99 percent of children in the school system have received the measles vaccine.

“Measles is a very contagious disease,” Christ said. “We’re pleased that we didn’t get any more cases.”

It could have been worse for Arizona, said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, Maricopa County’s medical director for disease control. “We dodged the bullet this time. But because there’s so much measles surrounding our county and our state, we can’t let our guard down.”

Christ said doctors have stepped up their vigilance to spot cases of measles. “They’re keeping it as one of the things they’re looking for, keeping an eye out for a runny nose, fever and rash.”

The public also has become more proactive. The vaccination rate for measles, mumps and rubella jumped 30 percent in January compared with January 2014, health officials have said.

They also are taking precautions before doctor visits. “We’re hearing of people getting masks when they have a rash,” Christ said. “They’ve been notifying the doctor before they walk in and then telling the physician of their travel history.”

She said she is grateful the measles scare got many people talking. “They began talking about the importance of getting vaccinations, not only for themselves, but for the community.”

The measles scare for Arizona is officially over. No new confirmed cases were reported by March 6, the end of the latest incubation period, so Arizona is in the clear. For now. Public health officials hope the new cases popping up in Las Vegas and Southern California won’t lead to new cases in Arizona.

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