Health Department Confirms 19th Case of Measles at Eloy Detention Center

**Update 6/27/16 1:30 pm: The Arizona Department of Health Services confirmed another case of measles associated with the outbreak at Eloy Detention Center, bringing the total number of cases to 20.

Despite mitigation efforts, a measles outbreak at the Eloy Detention Center in Pinal County keeps getting worse.

Over the weekend, the Arizona Department of Health Services announced the 19th confirmed case and expanded the list of potentially contaminated areas in Pinal and Maricopa counties. (See below for full list.)

The facility, located about 60 miles south of Phoenix, is owned by a for-profit company, Corrections Corporation of America, and houses about 1,500 immigrants who are awaiting the outcome of their deportation proceedings.

The first cases associated with the measles outbreak were reported in late May. A total of 12 detainees and five staffers have tested positive for measles, says Joe Pyritz of the Pinal County Health Department.

"We do have some public exposure to measles, and we're working to try to track down those who may have had contact with people who went out into the public with the measles," Pyritz says.

It's unclear how many people have been exposed or when the outbreak will be contained, but Pyritz says the detention center is taking precautions to keep sick detainees isolated and to get everyone on the premises vaccinated. Pyritz was unable to say how many people remain unvaccinated.

Pyritz says health officials have no idea how the outbreak started. "We don't know who Patient Zero is — if it was a detainee or a person who works there," he says. "Our epidemiologists haven't been able to pinpoint it."

Measles is a highly communicable viral illness that typically spreads through coughing and sneezing. It can live outside of the body for up to two hours and has no known cure. A person sick with measles often exhibits flulike symptoms and a rash, but the disease can be fatal in those with weaker or compromised immune systems. So far, no deaths have been associated with this most recent outbreak.

One of the main challenges in containing the virus is that people often don't know they have it, Pyritz says. "In many cases, people just think that they have the flu, and they go out. Next thing you know, they're potentially infecting other people."

According to the AZDHS, "The illness begins with symptoms which include fever (101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher), red, watery eyes, cough, and runny nose. A rash that is red, raised, and blotchy appears after several days. The rash begins on the head at the hairline and moves down the body. Symptoms can appear 7 to 21 days after exposure."

Measles, while scary, is preventable by vaccination. But as the nation witnessed last year when an outbreak sickened 67 people in seven states (including seven in Arizona), the debate over vaccines is clearly not over.

Arizona was, in some ways, the epicenter of that debate over vaccines, because of Dr. Jack Wolfson, the Scottsdale-based "Paleo Cardiologist" who became the de facto leader of the anti-vax movement.

As New Times' Elizabeth Stuart reported, Wolfson made a name for himself when, at the height of the 2015 measles scare, he told a reporter with 12 News: "We should be getting measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox. These are the rights of our children to get it."

Contrary to the vast majority of medical professionals, Wolfson is adamant that vaccines are "associated with negative reactions, including fever, rash, seizure, and autism. He believes disease is best prevented through extended breastfeeding, a diet of whole, organic foods, and adequate sleep and exercise," Stuart writes. After Stuart's story was published in March, Wolfson was featured in USA Today and the Washington Post and appeared on CNN proclaiming that a woman who injects chemicals into her child without questioning the consequences is a 'bad mother.'"

Wolfson further infuriated the public last July, after the Arizona Board of Osteopathic Examiners opted not to revoke his medical license.

Oddly, the Eloy outbreak has yet to rile the anti-vax contingent, Pyritz confirms.

"Believe it or not, I haven't heard anything about it," he says. "I kind of expected that, though. Maybe the anti-vaxxers are getting the message."

Here is a complete list of places the AZDHS believes contaminated individuals may have exposed the public to the measles virus. **Update 6/27/16 1:30 pm: AZDHS has added the following locations to the list of possible exposure sites:

Saturday, June, 18, 2016
-Earnhardt Toyota Scion, 6136 E Auto Loop Ave, Mesa, AZ 85206, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
-American Furniture Warehouse, 4700 S Power Rd, Gilbert, AZ 85296, from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Sunday, June, 19, 2016
-Boston’s, 804 N Cacheris Court, Casa Grande, AZ 85122, from 12 to 3:30 p.m.
-Walmart, 1741 E Florence Blvd, Casa Grande, AZ 85122, from 1 to 4:30 p.m.
-Sam's Club, 2425 E Florence Blvd, Casa Grande, AZ 85194, from 2 to 6 p.m.          

If you think you have measles, contact your doctor or another local medical professional by phone so they can make arrangements to see you in a way that does not expose others.

For more information, visit the AZDHS website.

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser