This week, two new cases in Arizona — a man and woman — were linked back to a local family reported to be infected when they visited the West Coast amusement park, according to the Arizona Republic.
Health officials say the outbreak is a direct result of the increasing number of people — particularly in California — who have chosen to remain unvaccinated, partly because of the erroneous belief that vaccinations can cause autism.
Arizona Department of Health Services director Will Humble said anyone who is unvaccinated or undervaccinated — those who have not yet received all doses — who has been exposed to the measles must be quarantined for three weeks.
“To stay in your house for 21 days is hard,” he said. “But we need people to follow those recommendations, because all it takes is a quick trip to the Costco before you’re ill and, ‘bam,’ you’ve just exposed a few hundred people. We’re at a real critical juncture with the outbreak.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the measles virus lives in mucus in the nose and throat. When measles patients cough or sneeze, “droplets spray into the air and the droplets remain active and contagious” for up to two hours.
Arizona public health authorities confirmed the woman, who was diagnosed with measles in Maricopa County, had been exposed to the family that recently traveled to Disneyland — ground zero for the current outbreak. Officials said she went on to expose as many as 195 children between Jan. 20 and Jan. 21 at Phoenix Children’s East Valley Center, an urgent care center. It’s still not clear why she was there and whether she was vaccinated, but she has since recovered, according to the health department.
“Mitigating factors allowed this person to go unreported for a few weeks. Luckily, we were able to quickly identify the small group of individuals that may have been exposed,” Bob England, director of Maricopa County Department of Public Health, said late last week in a news release. “However, we are not out of the woods yet. California is only a state away and there may be more secondary cases in Maricopa County. This is why we need residents and our healthcare community to be vigilant in identifying measles’ signs and symptoms.”
It’s unclear how many people have been exposed to the man who was diagnosed in Pinal County after he came in contact with the same family that had been to Disneyland. Pinal County health officials put out a notice listing five places of business the man had visited and urged people who might have been exposed to him to review their immunization history and monitor themselves “for illness with fever and unexplained rash” until Feb. 13.
The measles outbreak began in December, when someone reportedly infected with the virus visited the Disneyland Resorts in Anaheim, Calif. Over the past month, the disease has spread beyond that community, infecting close to 100 people in eight states. Mexico is also now battling the outbreak, according to news reports.
California is working to get ahead of the measles.
This week, 30 babies were put in home isolation in Alameda County after possible exposure. The disease is especially dangerous for infants because children younger than one year cannot get the MMR vaccine. On Tuesday, nearly 70 students at Palm Desert High School near Palm Springs were banned from class for two weeks because they haven’t been vaccinated.
According to the CDC, symptoms of the measles are similar to those of the common cold: fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes.
Humble said although Arizona is working to contain the illness, he’s sure it will spread.
“I am certain we will have more just based on the sheer number of people exposed this time,” he said.