LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Department of Health said Tuesday that three siblings in Northwest Arkansas are suspected of having measles.

Two of the three attend Ozark Adventist Academy near Gentry and unvaccinated students at the boarding school have been sent home as a precaution, said Dr. Gary Wheeler, chief of the department’s infectious disease branch. He said officials at the boarding school have been working with health officials.

The department said one of the three infected siblings — ages 10, 14, and 17 — recently returned from a European trip that included visits to Italy, Romania and Switzerland.

"They are suspected cases of measles … and as a result of that, because of the highly infectious nature of measles, we have put in place precautions," Wheeler said. "These are standard recommendations that we have made in consultation with the (Center for Disease Control and Infection) until we can confirm or unconfirm whether they are true measles cases."

Health Department spokesman Ed Barham said 3,685 children and teenagers in school in Arkansas last year were not immunized for measles because of waivers. Of those, 3,572 were for non-medical reasons.

The vaccination, which has been available since the early 1960s and is required for all children entering school in Arkansas, is generally given to children between 12 months and 15 months old.

The Legislature in 2003 passed a law which allows parents or legal guardians of a child to seek an exemption if the immunization conflicts with their religious or philosophical beliefs.

Measles is spread by sneezing and coughing. Symptoms include fever, breathing problems, cough, runny nose, red eyes and a rash on the face and upper body.

"Some people tolerate it very well and other people can have significant complications," Wheeler said, adding in some cases measles can cause encephalitis or be fatal. Some also may suffer neurological problems later in life.

Wheeler said public and private schools have protocols they must follow if students develop a communicable disease. Preschools also must follow certain procedures, said Amy Webb, spokesman for the state Department of Human Services. The procdures include sending sick children home, and notifying the parents, the state health department and DHS of the potential outbreak.