Archive for Monday, April 17, 2006

Reactions to mumps, crypto vary widely

April 17, 2006


It's been nearly three years since Lawrence was hit with an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis, catching local health officials off guard with its tenacity and rapid transmission from one person to another.

During the past few weeks, local and state health agencies have been monitoring a new outbreak. This time the disease is mumps - and it too is spreading rapidly, especially among college students.

The public response, however, has been almost completely different.

In the summer of 2003, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department came under sharp criticism for failing to spread word about the disease more quickly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that as many as 600 people may have been infected.

But public criticism during the mumps epidemic has been virtually nonexistent.

"Crypto was an unknown disease at the time," said Kay Kent, director of the local health department. "Anytime you have an unknown disease it is frightening. It also affected children. People know about mumps, and it's not affecting primarily children. Those things are different."

The health department followed the same protocol during both outbreaks, Kent said. That process calls for confirmation of a reportable disease from a laboratory and checking with physicians about possible cases. Investigation involves determining the demographics of the victims, medical details, immunization and risk factors.

Control measures are taken. During the crypto outbreak, the health department and the city shut down the Outdoor Aquatic Center and conducted hyperchlorination to kill any crypto in the pool. Other safety measures also were described to the public.

"With mumps, we know it is transmitted like the flu," Kent said. "Crypto is a much more complex disease to investigate. There are a lot more variables."

Local decisions

On March 31, the health department publicly reported that six probable cases of mumps had been reported in Douglas County.

"Anytime we have an outbreak contagious in nature we have to evaluate at what point to alert the public," said Sharon Watson, Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokeswoman. "We do leave the decision up to the local health department when the outbreak is local and that (Douglas County) was where the majority of the mumps cases were."

Kansas normally has no more than three mumps cases per year. By Friday, however, the mumps outbreak in Kansas had reached 78 confirmed cases, and 63 of them were in Douglas County. KU students made up 45 of those cases.

Kansas has received thousands of dollars in federal funding since the 9-11 terrorist attacks to help increase the abilities of state and local agencies to handle bioterrorism incidents or a pandemic flu outbreak. More money has been spent on training and improving the ability to dispense information to the public, Watson said.

The biggest change the Douglas County Health Department made as a result of the crypto outbreak was to hire a communications coordinator, Kent said.

"It was very difficult to manage the outbreak of crypto and be responsible to the media," she said. "It has gone much more smoothly this time."


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.