Three measles cases in the Phoenix area could signal a potential outbreak

None of the three confirmed measles patients in Maricopa County had been vaccinated. Two of the patients were children. (Photo by Sebastian Barros/NurPhoto/Shutterstock)

PHOENIX – Measles is making a comeback in Maricopa County with three confirmed cases – the first since 2019. Two of the patients are children and one required hospitalization.

As of September 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had confirmed only 13 cases nationwide.

Symptoms of measles can include red eyes, cough, runny nose, fever, and red, blotchy rashes that start near the hairline and can spread through the body, according to the CDC. Symptoms usually develop seven to 14 days after contact with the highly contagious virus, but can take up to 21 days.

Experts say measles is rarely fatal, but it is dangerous for children and can have long-lasting effects.

The standard measles vaccine is 97 percent effective, according to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. But once contracted, measles takes its own course.

“Measles is super contagious, it’s transmitted through respiratory droplets,” said Dr. Kellie Kruger of the Mayo Clinic-San Tan. “You don’t even have to touch someone or have direct physical contact with someone to get measles.”

Dr. Nick Staab, a medical epidemiologist with the county health department, said the first case of measles came from a person who had recently returned to Arizona from international travel.

“There is no specific treatment for measles, just take supportive care to get better,” Staab said. Supportive care means home remedies such as rest, hydration, and over-the-counter medications. “Even if you recover completely, there is a serious side effect that can affect you years later, seven to nine years and also lead to death,” he said.

This side effect is called SSPE – subacute sclerosing panencephalitis – and attacks a person neurologically. Early symptoms may include memory loss, irritability, seizures, involuntary muscle movements and/or behavioral changes, resulting in neurological deterioration.

With fewer than 10 cases of SSPE per year, there is still no cure for SSPE, although prescription antiviral drugs can slow the progression.

The three cases in Maricopa County involved unvaccinated people — a trend that is growing across the country as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and some people don’t want to get vaccinated. The pandemic has also disrupted childhood immunization services and inequalities in access to vaccines are widening.

Related story

The number of measles cases worldwide has increased dramatically, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF. In 2020, 23 million children worldwide had not received any of the basic childhood vaccines. This is the highest number of unvaccinated children reported since 2009, and almost 4 million more than in 2019.

By percentage, Maricopa County is right in the middle of kindergarten children immunized against measles: 92.7 percent. In Yavapai County, the vaccination rate in the 2018-2019 school year was just 83.3%.

These rankings are based on “personal belief” exemptions, according to ADHS data collections.

Extra care should be taken when around other people, such as students in a classroom, to protect everyone’s safety.

Back To Top