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By Jennifer Sterba
Arizona Summer Wildcat
June 11, 1997

Arizona sees outbreak in infectious diseases

Cases of measles, mumps and rubella are increasing at a significant rate in Arizona, although they are preventable by one vaccine, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

An epidemiologist at the Arizona Department of Health Services said colleges and universities should be concerned because of a history of outbreaks on campuses.

"Everyone is living so close together and there have been some serious outbreaks in the past," said Susan Goodykoontz, epidemiologist with ADHS.

However, Jolie Schaeffler, immunization nurse at the Campus Health Center, said there have been no suspect cases at the University of Arizona this year.

"We're really active in the immunization program," she said. "We've never had an outbreak."

Schaeffler said most students have deferred to university policy, which requires all incoming students to have proof of a second measles, mumps and rubella vaccination since 1980.

She said the new vaccine produces longer lasting antibodies to fight off the infectious diseases.

Targeting the Source

Goodykoontz said the three diseases are being targeted for elimination by the year 2000, so ADHS is concerned about the source of transmission.

"When we start talking about the elimination of cures, each individual case becomes important," she said.

"They (infected people) had to get it from somewhere," Goodykoontz said. "We don't know the source."

Dr. Bob England, also with ADHS, said all three of these viruses are transmitted through the air as people cough and sneeze.

"In all of these diseases, a person is contagious for several days prior to the onset of symptoms, so they can spread the disease before they know they realize they are sick," he said.

Goodykoontz said many possibilities are being researched to explain the increased outbreak in Arizona.

"We're lab testing all suspect cases and collecting viruses to see if there is a new strain," she said.

Goodykoontz said one obstacle is that most people don't remember when and if they had their second MMR vaccination.

"It's a barrier that's always been there," she said.

Goodykoontz said the vaccine has been improved since 1980, so people who received their vaccination before then should also consider getting another MMR shot.

She said people should not just think about whether they want to risk getting sick.

"It's not just to protect us, but to protect other people," she said.

Children should have their first vaccination between the ages of 12 and 15 months. They should receive their second MMR between 4-6 years or 11-12 years of age.

Outbreaks Around the State

The Bureau of Epidemiology and Disease Control Services reported that a rubella outbreak was declared two weeks ago in Maricopa County after three cases were identified.

In addition, two infants were born with severe birth defects, called congenital rubella syndrome - the result of the mother contracting rubella in the first trimester.

The entire state reported just three cases last year.

Two cases of mumps were also identified in Maricopa and 22 cases in Pinal County. Five cases of measles were identified in Yavapai County.

In 1996, eight cases of measles and one case of the mumps were reported for the state.

So far this year no one tested positive for the three diseases in Pima County.

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