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Utah health department urges measles vaccinations as 17 states report cases

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah health officials warned Monday about the potential for a measles outbreak after 17 other states have reported cases.

Measles, a respiratory disease caused by a virus, is so contagious it will infect about 90% of people who interact with an already infected person, if they have not been immunized or previously had measles, health officials said in a statement.

Currently, 97 cases have been reported throughout the country, some in Arizona and California and in multiple East Coast and Midwestern states. Throughout 2023, there were 58 measles cases in the United States.

The Utah Department of Health and Human Services, along with the Utah Association of Local Health Departments, said in its statement the MMR vaccine is 97% effective with two doses.

State epidemiologist Leisha Nolen said the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risk. Nolan said babies may have a mild fever and adults often have a sore arm from a vaccine, but more serious reactions are rare and can be treated.

"The MMR vaccine has been used since the early 1970s and has saved millions of lives — and prevented significant suffering — around the globe," she said.

Utah's health officials encourage all Utahns to check whether they have been immunized, particularly those planning to travel out of state.

Measles causes a rash and a fever, and can cause multiple other symptoms including a cough, sore throat, white spots in the mouth, red or watery eyes. In more severe cases it can cause seizures, diarrhea, pneumonia or a brain infection.

Measles can cause serious illness especially in children under 5, pregnant women and people whose immune systems are weakened.

The statement said symptoms often begin between 10 and 14 days after exposure to measles. A rash will generally start a few days after other signs of the illness, beginning in the face and advancing from there. A person can spread measles four days before the rash appears, often before other symptoms begin, and until four days after the rash is gone.

Anyone who suspects they have measles should call a health care provider for instructions before going to an appointment, health officials said.

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