Immigration

Nearly 300 Immigrants In Texas Detention Facilities Have Contracted Mumps Since Outbreak Last Fall

After reports of an outbreak surfaced in January, officials have still not controlled the spread of mumps in immigration facilities across the state.

The Houston Contract Detention Facility identified at least 15 mumps cases in 2019.

Reports from the Texas Department of State Health Services show 167 mumps cases have been detected in federal immigrant detention facilities in 2019 so far.

That’s in addition to the 117 cases recorded from October 1 through the end of 2018, making for a total of 284 cases stemming from an outbreak last fall. 

And the numbers keep climbing. 

Information requested by News 88.7 from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows that on May 9, 2019, a total of 159 cases were reported for the year. On May 22, that count increased to 167 cases.

“To have this many cases concentrated in this relatively small population is distinctly unusual in the United States,” said Dr. Jody Rich, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Brown University and a volunteer with Physicians for Human Rights.

A majority of these cases were identified in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities in South Texas and Houston. 

The El Valle Detention Facility saw 55 confirmed and probable mumps cases in 2018, according to ICE data obtained by Houston Public Media through a Freedom of Information Act request. 

Another detention facility in north Houston saw 15 cases this year, as of April 2019. A detention center in Pearsall had 28 cases in the same time frame.

Rich said he thinks immigration authorities should be vaccinating immigrants to stop the spread of mumps, which is highly contagious. 

“For mumps it’s really just a question of vaccination. It’s a highly contagious virus, particularly in closed settings. We essentially have no treatment. All we can do is supportive treatment and we should be vaccinating all at-risk people as early as possible, particularly if we are about to confine them in a closed space with a bunch of other unvaccinated people in the setting of an outbreak. This is ridiculous,” said Rich. 

“You need three cases connected in space and time to call it an outbreak and there are hundreds of cases here so this is probably multiple outbreaks going on,” he said. 

When asked about their policy of administering vaccines in the case of a mumps outbreak a spokesperson from ICE provided a written statement saying, “The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Health Service Corps (IHSC) recommends that adult immigration detention facilities administer MMR vaccine to detainees with known exposure to at least one laboratory-confirmed person with measles, mumps or rubella. IHSC recommends catch-up vaccinations for minors who are younger than 18 years old.”

Officials did not say outright whether or not vaccines are being administered to detainees in affected Texas facilities. 

Rich said containing mumps and vaccinating detainees is crucial to public health, especially since the same vaccine (MMR) that protects against mumps, is also what prevents measles.

“You have a large population at risk for developing measles in a congregate housing setting where transmission will spread like wild fire. That is just a potential public health disaster waiting to happen and this certainly could spill over into the community and cause more disease and even potentially deaths,” he said.

“Clearly there should be a very aggressive MMR vaccine initiative in these populations,” said Rich.   

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