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With hundreds exposed to measles, health officials urge Arizonans to take precautions

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With seven confirmed cases of measles and an estimated 1,000 people believed to have been exposed as of Friday, health officials and advocates were urging Arizonans to take precautions.

One recommendation: Don’t go straight to a doctor’s office, urgent care or hospital if you believe you have measles, potentially exposing others to the extremely contagious disease. Call a doctor instead and describe your symptoms, and wear a mask if you must leave home.

Another: Get yourself and your children vaccinated if you haven’t been.

Debbie McCune Davis, director of The Arizona Partnership for Immunization, said people need to be careful if they think they have the flu because they may really have the early symptoms of measles, including high fever, and could easily infect others.

“What’s interesting about measles is that in the first few days your symptoms resemble the flu symptoms,” she said. “But as of about the fourth day you’ll see a rash emerge and that rash is the signal that it’s measles.”

Certain people who are exposed to the measles, like the young, elderly or those who have diseases of the immune system, are at high risk from measles, according to Dr. Cara Christ, chief medical officer of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“It can result in deafness, blindness and lifelong brain damage if you get it,” she said. “Not to mention that your child if you get measles is going to be sick. This isn’t like they have a runny nose and can still go to day care.”

With Sunday’s Super Bowl to be held in Glendale, public health students from the University of Arizona were planning to be at University of Phoenix Stadium to help the Maricopa County Department of Public Health track infectious diseases including measles.

In a news release, the university said the students will interview people who go to the stadium’s first-aid stations to check for disease symptoms and share the data with county health officials.

In Gila County, where the state’s first measles case was confirmed Jan. 14, the Division of Health and Emergency Services is using this as an opportunity to educate families about the measles virus and the vaccine.

Josh Beck, the division’s manager of public health and emergency preparedness, said that includes urging schools to remind nurses to review vaccination records.

“We also sent out the measles FAQ sheet to the parents who don’t have the vaccinations for their children to remind them about the importance of having their vaccinations,” he said.

The Maricopa County Department of Public Health was prepared to take any unvaccinated students out of classes for 21 days if a measles case is confirmed in a school, spokeswoman Jeanene Fowler said.

“If we do get a case of measles, the best thing we can do to stop the spread is to remove any individuals who are not vaccinated because it is so contagious,” she said.

McCune Davis noted that vaccination is the surest way to limit the spread of measles.

“I think as parents, we do the best that we can to protect our children. Vaccines are a sure-fire way to make certain that our children stay healthy,” she said. “This is an airborne disease, there is no other way to protect your children from it.”