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By Mark-Alexander Pieper

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (May 10, 2002 – Pacific Daily News)---The measles outbreak on Guam reached epidemic status yesterday.

There are now eight confirmed cases of measles here and 41 suspected cases, said Dennis Rodriguez, director of the Department of Public Health and Social Services.

Public Health, however, will soon have an additional $100,000 to pay nurses who have worked overtime to treat the measles epidemic.

Gov. Carl Gutierrez yesterday signed Bill 316 into law, after it passed the Legislature Wednesday.

"It is necessary for this legislation to be enacted immediately in order to provide the necessary funds for immunizing our young children from the threat of the measles disease," he said.

Public Law 26-82 appropriates $100,000 to deal only with the current outbreak.


"Epidemic status is a classification that basically says we have too many measles cases because this is a vaccine-preventable disease," Rodriguez said.

"We should have never gotten to this level of the disease. If everyone on island had been conscious to get their vaccinations, then we would not be where we are today."

Public Health sent 28 test samples for off-island testing last week, and results from four of those tests arrived yesterday, confirming an additional case of measles on Guam.

"Yes, we have reached epidemic status, but we have been working like the situation has been an epidemic since we first found out," Rodriguez said.

Results of tests on the 24 remaining suspected cases are expected to arrive by the end of the week, Rodriguez said. He would not speculate on the likelihood of additional cases being confirmed.

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

New strategy

Public Health adopted a more aggressive vaccination strategy two days ago, hoping to prevent a situation like Guam's last measles epidemic in 1994. There were 224 confirmed measles cases and three deaths during that epidemic.

Public Health nurses will operate a vaccination clinic at the Yigo gymnasium today and the agency will open all three of its clinics Saturday for vaccinations.

Measles, mumps and rubella shots will be administered free of charge at those clinics to children ages 1 to 6.

Previously, the health department administered vaccinations only at the agency's main facility in Mangilao and at five targeted areas in Yigo, Merizo, Pagat in Mangilao, and Astumbo and NCS in Dededo.

Those areas were targeted because they were the source of most suspected measles cases, Rodriguez said.

Public Health has vaccinated 782 people since the clinics began April 28.

School work

The health department will now administer a second MMR shot to children, as long as more than 30 days have passed since their last vaccination.

Having a second MMR vaccination provides better protection against measles, according to Public Health.

The agency is working with the Department of Education and private clinics to find children who have had only one MMR shot.

"By virtue of the fact that the students are required to have their shot record up to date when registering, there is not a problem at the school level," said DOE acting spokeswoman Evelyn Salas.

DOE students are required to have one MMR vaccination to enter school, she said. Schools will now phone parents of students who have had only one MMR shot.

"We are following up to make sure the children have gotten their second MMR," she said.

"(We're) also being extra careful with new registrants. They are really scrutinizing to make sure that before a child can enter a school they have the shot record on the MMR."

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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