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Pima County’s Measles Outbreak Over, Wasn’t As Bad As Thought

July 22, 2008

By Stephanie Innes, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

Jul. 22–Pima County’s measles outbreak is over and it wasn’t as bad as the health department previously thought.

Forty-two days have passed since the last reported case — long enough to declare an end to the outbreak, said Pima County Health Department spokeswoman Patti Woodcock.

Though health officials originally counted 22 cases, they have since revised that number to 13 confirmed cases, plus four probable cases. The revised figures came about after an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control, the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Pima County Health Department.

“When everything calmed down we were given an opportunity to go over the cases,” Woodcock said.

What started with a winter visit to the Southern Arizona desert by a tourist from Switzerland quickly erupted into one of the nation’s largest measles outbreaks in recent years.

The unidentified Swiss woman became sick while here in mid-February and went to Northwest Medical Center’s emergency room for care. Like all Tucson ERs at that time, it was packed to overflowing with flu-stricken patients, setting the stage for massive exposure to the measles virus, and an outbreak that cascaded through the community as winter morphed into spring.

Fortunately, no one has died of measles here, although several victims did suffer complications, including fever-related seizures, pneumonia and many ear infections among children.

Of the 21 victims, nine were adults and 12 were children or infants. Three were sick enough to require hospitalization.

In the effort to gain control of the outbreak, some 15,000 doses of the MMR vaccine — the combination measles, mumps and rubella shot — were given out, with the county’s free shot clinics due to wind up this weekend.

Although laboratory results strongly suggest that all Pima County cases were linked to the “index patient” — the Swiss tourist — that is not an absolute certainty.

Though the case count has gone down, Woodcock still classifies the local outbreak as a public health emergency.

“One case is considered an outbreak,” she said. “Measles is about to be eradicated in the U.S.”

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