Utah's measles outbreak is spreading south.

In addition to some 53 cases confirmed in Davis County - where the outbreak began in April - the Utah Department of Health Monday reported more than 19 cases in Utah County, in addition to a few cases in Salt Lake County.A handful of "suspect cases" also have been identified in Weber and Morgan counties.

The continual spread has health officials concerned that this year's outbreak could be one of the state's largest.

"We've had more cases this year to date than last year," said Christine Perfili, community health specialist for the state health department. "And the outbreak may become much more widespread before it is contained."

To help halt the spread, the Salt Lake City/County Health Department is extending hours at its new South Main Family Health Center, 3195 S. Main St. It's open Monday from 4 to 7:30 p.m.

"The measles epidemic is real and it is a serious and potentially fatal illness," stressed Dr. Harry Gibbons, health department executive director. "There's no longer any excuse for a working parent to not have their children immunized."

Yet, it's the third consecutive year a rash of measles has plagued Utahns.

One of the most contagious diseases known, measles is most infectious before the tell-tale rash appears. The early symptoms don't necessarily point to measles since they resemble those of a common cold - cough, runny nose, conjunctivitis and fever, said Rick Crankshaw, coordinator of the Utah Department of Health's Immunization Program.

Crankshaw said outbreaks are more quickly controlled if cases are reported to health officials early in the infection. "Preventing the spread of measles depends upon the prompt vaccination of susceptible (non-immune) persons," he said.

When a measles case is suspect, health officials don't await lab tests before taking action. People who cannot readily provide documentation of measles immunity must be vaccinated or excluded from places where they might become infected or infect others, Crankshaw said. It may also be necessary to re-vaccinate individuals in an outbreak situation.

Perfili said persons born before 1957 are generally considered immune. However, the health department recommends that people immunized between 1957 and 1970, be vaccinated. Children should be immunized at 15 months of age.

Vaccine is readily available through local health department clinics or private providers.