GUAM SENATORS TACKLE HEALTH BILL: $300,000 WOULD HELP COVER MEASLES OUTBREAK,

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FUTURE EMERGENCIES

By Steve Limtiaco

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (May 8, 2002 - Pacific Daily News)---Debate is scheduled to continue today at the Legislature on a bill to provide as much as $300,000 to help pay the cost of handling the measles outbreak, as well as any future public health emergencies.

Sen. Eddie Calvo, R-Maite and the author of Bill 316, said the Department of Public Health and Social Services has spent about $25,000 for medication and lab costs and about $89,000 in overtime to address the measles outbreak.

So far, there have been 37 suspected measles cases on Guam, and seven of those have been confirmed as measles by tests performed in Hawai‘i and California, said Public Health Director Dennis Rodriguez.

Guam is one case short of what is officially considered an epidemic, but Public Health officials said results still have not come back from the 28 other suspected cases.

Most of the suspected cases have involved children ages 1 to 4, Rodriguez said, but a 20-year-old also might have measles.

"(The outbreak) has not been contained yet. Because of the late reporting of the very first case, ... that's why you're seeing few confirmed cases, versus the ones that have been reported," Rodriguez told senators.

Public Health officials said they have not identified the source of the measles outbreak, and said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to test measles samples to determine their origin.

Peter John Camacho, chief public health officer, said the first case could have been imported because it has been so long since the last reported measles case here.

The last outbreak on Guam was in 1994, when 23 people were hospitalized and three people died.

Public health nurses are making house-to-house visits in three areas where possible measles cases were reported, reviewing vaccination records and referring residents to vaccination centers.

Schools within a one-mile radius of those areas have been asked to provide vaccination records for all students, and Public Health is working with the schools to provide additional vaccinations for those students who have not been properly vaccinated.

So far, only a few students are missing required shots, according to Public Health officials.

"All physicians have been alerted to report on cases of fever and rash," said Josie O'Mallan, administrator for Public Health's Bureau of Communicable Disease Control.

"The time when we can say the outbreak has slowed down is when we stop getting reports of suspect cases."

While some senators said children have not been properly vaccinated because of a lack of public awareness, Dr. Paula Brinkley said the real problem is the inability of government to adequately serve those people.

"We are constantly turning people away because we don't have the means to see them," she said.

"The bigger problem is we don't provide really good access."

She noted the poor public transit system often forces patients to sit in the clinic all day to receive treatment.

Janice Yatar, acting administrator for the Bureau of Family Health and Nursing Services, told lawmakers service has suffered because of a chronic nursing shortage.

She said there are seven public health nurses available to serve the community.

"There's no way I can run the community-based outreach clinics anymore," Yatar said.

Sen. Vicente Pangelinan, D-Barrigada, questioned the overtime costs submitted by Public Health -- particularly overtime for administrators and facilities workers.

He said almost every worker is claiming at least 50 work hours each week, regardless of job description.

Yatar said administrators are working extra hours in order to compile and submit field reports to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That work often involves calling homes to verify information, she said. And officials said workers are needed to open and close buildings and to provide security.

Pangelinan said Public Health should find ways to use other government health workers to do some of the work.

He said the department also should encourage patients with health insurance to get their vaccinations using insurance whenever possible.

Rodriguez said that already is being done.

ABOUT MEASLES

For more facts on measles, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at www.cdc.gov/health/measles.htm 

For more facts about measles for adults, visit the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Web site at www.nfid.org/factsheets/measlesadult.html 

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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