PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY IN GUAM: MEASLES

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By Mark-Alexander Pieper

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (April 27, 2002 – Pacific Daily News)---The Department of Public Health and Social Services yesterday declared a state of public health emergency after the agency confirmed sixteen cases of measles on island.

"This declaration is not an independent action from Public Health Guam. This has been done in conjunction with (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in) Atlanta," said Public Health Director Dennis Rodriguez.

"It was strongly suggested to us that we declare a public health emergency so that we can mobilize all our resources to contain this, and we are doing so by having the clinics."

The last significant measles outbreak on Guam was in 1994 when the health agency confirmed 224 cases of measles, said Ronald Balajadia, immunization program supervisor. Two infants and a 22-year-old man died in that outbreak, he said.

Red, blotchy menace

The illness is characterized by fever, cough, watery eyes and its trademark -- a red, blotchy rash -- that usually appears by the third or fourth day, said Dr. Edgardo Hidalgo, a pediatrician with Public Health and a private practice.

"Occasionally, complications can arise, such as ear infections or encephalitis -- a brain inflammation that can lead to deafness, mental retardation and even death," he said.

Rodriguez said the agency first became aware of the problem on April 13, when various private clinics and Guam Memorial Hospital began informing them of the cases -- as they are required to do by law.

As the number of cases began to increase, the agency decided that it needed to declare a public health emergency.

"When the cases doubled from the eight (Thursday) to the 16 (yesterday) we decided to act," he said.

The health agency is urging residents not to panic. The agency declared the state of emergency to qualify for money to purchase vaccines to contain the viral disease immediately, Balajadia said.

Free clinics

To combat the situation, Public Health is holding free clinics this weekend for all children ages one to six to get their measles, mumps and rubella shots.

"We will be offering MMR vaccine for those individuals who have never received an MMR vaccine," Balajadia said. "But that is the only vaccine we will be offering for free."

Additional clinic sessions will be announced at a later date, he said.

Public Health also plans to seek help from private-sector clinics because of a shortage of nursing staff and limited supplies.

Rodriguez said the agency only has enough doses of MMR to treat 1,000 people, and has ordered an additional 1,500 doses.

VACCINATIONS

For additional reports from the Pacific Daily News, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Pacific Daily News (Guam)

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