Measles outbreak in Arizona caused in part by immigration workers refusal to get vaccinated

Posted at 2:08 PM, Jul 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-08 01:55:59-04

Health officials in Arizona say the largest current measles outbreak in the United States is in part because some workers at a federal immigration detention center refuse to get vaccinated.

Authorities have confirmed 22 measles cases in Arizona since late May. They all stem from the Eloy Detention Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility managed by the Corrections Corporation of America.

Pinal County health director Thomas Schryer says the outbreak likely began with a migrant but that detainees have since been vaccinated.

He said ICE employees at the large facility have not been as cooperative. The Department told ABC15 120 ICE employees either won’t get vaccinated or will not show proof of immunization.

Nine of the 22 total cases were facility staff. The outbreak has shut down access to all visitors to reduce the risk of spread and exposure.

In a statement, ICE says the agency is working closely with health officials to monitor detainees and employees.

The detention facility is currently a private prison, run by Corrections Corporation of America. CCA says most of its 353 workers have gotten immunized or are wearing surgical masks while looking for proof of immunity.

Health officials say only medical staff are required to get vaccinated. The only requirement set by OSHA for other prison staff is a TB Skin Test. Officers within the facility do not need to get vaccinated. ICE also does not require their employees to get vaccinated if they work at a detention facility.

"There are those people that don't believe in vaccinations and it is hard to require something like that of someone who has a belief that doesn't allow them to get these vaccinations,” said Barrett Marson, former spokesperson for the Department of Corrections. 

Marson says the spread of viruses and diseases is always a concern.

"You are in a cell for 18 hours a day. It is easy to cough causing that communicable disease to spread," said Marson.

Health officials say those exposed to the disease who are not vaccinated have a 90 percent chance of infection. The virus is airborne, so breathing, coughing or sneezing could cause it to spread. Once in the air, it can stay active for up to two hours, so anyone who is in an exposed area could be at risk.

Symptoms appear seven to 12 days after exposure, but may take up to 21 days. It begins with fever (101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher), red, watery eyes, cough and runny nose and is followed by a rash that is red, raised, and blotchy. The rash begins on the face at the hairline and moves down the body. The rash may last five to six days.