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Measles alert issued after two cases are confirmed

Two cases of measles have been confirmed in Hillsborough County and three other cases are being investigated, prompting health officials to issue a measles alert. Last year, health officials declared an epidemic of the highly infectious virus when 119 cases were confirmed in Hillsborough, the worst outbreak of the virus in about 10 years. Pinellas County, which is investigating two possible cases this year, had 10 confirmed cases in 1989.

Parents are being urged this week to immunize their children who are 1 year or older, if they have not already. Typically, children should be immunized at 15 months of age.

A 2-year-old Northdale girl and an 11-month-old boy who was attending a downtown Tampa day-care center have been diagnosed with the virus, said Dr. Pascale Wortley, Hillsborough County epidemiologist. Health officials do not know how the children contracted the virus.

Day-care centers have been told to check their records for children who have not been vaccinated. Some elementary schools, where suspected cases have been found, are also reviewing their files, Wortley said.

It is a legal requirement that parents immunize their children against measles before sending them to day-care centers or schools, said Tom Jones, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. Exceptions include children who are allergic to the vaccine and whose families have religious objections.

Wortley recommended that parents look for symptoms such as runny nose, cough, high fever, pink eye and a red rash.

If the children have not received the one-shot measles vaccine, parents should take them to a private physician or to a public health clinic, where the vaccination is free, Wortley said.

This strain of measles _ rubeola, or 10-day, red measles _ usually is fairly benign, Wortley said. But if untreated, the virus can lead to complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis, she said. The virus can be fatal.