Chickenpox outbreak at migrant shelter contained, Mexican officials say

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Hundreds get vaccines and dozens remain in isolation in Juarez, even as new cases are reported

Migrants staying at a Juarez, Mexico shelter where 127 of their peers have been diagnosed with chickenpox this week received vaccines. (photo courtesy Office of the Mayor of Juarez)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The chickenpox outbreak that sickened 127 migrants and has another seven under observation at a Juarez shelter has been contained, Mexican officials said.

This, after staff at the Leona Vicario migrant facility successfully isolated the sick and their families and applied 758 vaccines on Tuesday and Wednesday to the rest of those staying there, Chihuahua state health officials said.

“The most important issue is that those who are infirm don’t (have contact) with those who are healthy. We cannot have the sick running around” the shelter, said Gumaro Barrios, head of epidemiology in Juarez.

Health officials on Tuesday received 1,300 varicella — or chickenpox — vaccines from the state and federal governments. Plans call for migrants staying at church-run shelters throughout the city to also get vaccines in order to avoid a citywide epidemic.

While all of the confirmed cases were at the Leona Vicario shelter, five suspected cases are being reported at Casa del Migrante, the largest of the church-run facilities. Officials said that up to 198 guests at Casa del Migrante could get the varicella vaccination next.

At Leona Vicario, 71% of the sick are children under 15 years old, Barrios said. Nearly half (57) are Hondurans, 27 are Salvadorans and 25 from Guatemala, he said. The rest of the cases involve Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, Mexicans and others.

Juarez has become temporary residence to thousands of migrants who are seeking asylum in the United States and have either been placed on a waiting list for initial appointments or were sent back to Mexico under a program called Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).

Juarez city officials tell Border Report they have spent more than half a million dollars on food and security for people staying at migrant shelters since October 2018. Chihuahua state officials set up a migrant assistance center that has kept control of appointments with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and provided a space for the migrants to meet with advocates and legal advisers.

So far, the chickenpox contagion has been the only infectious disease outbreak recorded among the newly arrived migrant population here. However, some are warning it’s a matter of time before further health problems surface.

In an interview with the Juarez news portal La Polaka, Dr. Alejandro Diaz said the varicella outbreak was not timely addressed and that overcrowded conditions and poor hygiene at shelters are “ticking timebombs” waiting to go off. The first varicella cases at Leona Vicario shelter were detected on Dec. 7, but it wasn’t until last week that government officials spoke publicly about the problem and not until Tuesday that the first vaccines were applied.

Visit the BorderReport.com homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.

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