Health officials are asking anyone with potential measles symptoms to not attend the Super Bowl on Sunday. (Photo: Getty Images)
As thousands make their way toward Phoenix, Arizona for the Super Bowl on Sunday, state health officials are monitoring more than 1,000 people who have come in contact with the measles virus, including 195 children, as a result of the Disneyland outbreak in California.
So far, there are 67 confirmed cases of measles in seven states as a direct result of Disneyland, seven of which are currently in Arizona.
Health officials in three Phoenix-area counties — Maricopa, Pinal and Gila — have already asked that anyone who has not been vaccinated for measles and may have been exposed to the virus stay home from school or work during the 21-day incubation period.
Preventing the spread of the virus right now is “critical,” according to Arizona State Health Director Will Humble. “If the public health system and medical community are able to identify every single susceptible case and get them into isolation, we have a chance of stopping this outbreak here,” he writes in a blog entry. “However, if we miss any potential cases and some of them go to a congregate setting with numerous susceptible contacts, we could be in for a long and protracted outbreak.”
Naturally, all eyes are turning to the biggest sports event on the national calendar.
In a call with the media on Thursday, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official asked that anyone with symptoms of the virus please stay home and not attend the Super Bowl on Sunday. “The very large outbreaks we’ve seen around the world often started with a small number of cases,” says Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the agency’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
In one case, a measles-infected woman entered a pediatric clinic, potentially exposing 200 children to the virus. She did not know she was infected at the time. With the rise in unvaccinated children, along with babies who are too young for vaccination, experts fear the hyper-contagious disease will continue to slowly spread if it isn’t contained immediately.
Schuchat called the growing number of unvaccinated children “frustrating,” but tried to quell fears that the University of Phoenix stadium would be a breeding ground for measles on Sunday. “I wouldn’t expect the Super Bowl to be a place where many unvaccinated people will be congregating,” she said.
If anyone ignores symptoms and attends the game, however, that could be potentially damaging, as the disease spreads fast among the unvaccinated, according to Gail Shust, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Kravis Children’s Hospital at Mount Sinai. “It is one of the most contagious infectious diseases we know of,” she told Yahoo Health. “If you’re not immune, you have about a 9 in 10 chance of getting it through close contact.”
The virus can be transmitted through the air in a sneeze or a cough or through direct contact, and can even survive on a surface for two hours, according to Shust.
Missed cases and ignored symptoms allow the disease to gain traction, which can lead to more outbreaks and a true resurgence of a once-eradicated condition in the United States. Measles can lead to serious complications like pneumonia and encephalitis, especially in children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Already in 2015, there have been 84 cases of measles in 14 states, following last year’s 600 cases, which was the most in two decades.
Again, health officials are advising that those with measles symptoms after a known exposure — a cough, nasal congestion, and potentially pinkeye at first, followed by high fever and the hallmark rash — should stay home.
And if you or your children haven’t been vaccinated, Disneyland is another reminder for why you should do so, Schuchat said. “This is a wake-up call to make sure we keep measles from getting a foothold in our country.”
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