Walmart shareholders were treated to quite a show last week including performances by Jamie Foxx, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Josh Groban and others. However, 142 attendees of the annual shareholders meeting in Fayetteville were treated to something a little less pleasant: measles vaccinations.
According to Ed Barham, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Health, all but eight of those vaccinated were visiting from other countries.
“Somebody that came in from another country to the shareholders meeting became ill and the symptoms were not completely consistent with measles, although a couple were,” Barham said. “He was tested for a number of things and out of an abundance of caution, a bunch of people were vaccinated for measles who had not had their measles, mumps and rubella shots.”
As of yet, no tests have confirmed measles in anyone.
Barham couldn’t comment on any specifics about the attendee who became ill, citing the health privacy law.
Lorenzo Lopez, a spokesperson for Walmart, said the associate was quarantined and a number of steps were taken in order to makes sure everyone was safe.
“At this point the associate is feeling better and has been released from the hospital,” Lopez said. “All others who received vaccinations have returned home and are feeling fine. The meetings went on without disruption.”
Health department personnel went to the shareholders meeting being held at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville on Friday, June 4, to deliver the vaccinations. Barham said the shots were paid for through a federal grant that comes from the health department’s budget to protect people of the state from infectious diseases. The cost to the state was $18.64 per shot, or $2,646.45 total.
“People come into conventions and conferences like that and become ill and often the health department will become involved in an infectious disease investigation and it will wind up being no big deal, or they’re sick with something else, or it goes away,” Barham said. “We’re in the business of imagining all kinds of things and getting ready for whatever it might be. In this case there was something we could do, so we made sure everyone had their shots up to date.”
HEALTH DEPARTMENT NEWS RELEASE
(Little Rock—) The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) is investigating a rash illness in a visitor to the United States that was scheduled to participate at a recent Walmart Shareholders Meeting held at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. The international visitor had exhibited some symptoms that are consistent with measles but it is not known if, in fact, the individual is infected with this disease or something else. The Arkansas Department of Health is working with Walmart and the University of Arkansas where the conference was held to provide vaccine as a precautionary measure to persons that might have been exposed to this person. The department vaccinated 142 persons that were potentially exposed. There is no evidence of any disease in anyone else associated with the meeting. The ADH is awaiting lab results that should be available late Tuesday afternoon.
According to James Phillips, MD, Director of the Infectious Disease Branch at ADH, there is very little chance that anyone other than foreign-born visitors or those who had never been vaccinated would be at risk if the diagnosis turns out to be measles. “Measles is very rare in countries and regions of the world that are able to vaccinate large numbers of people. Because the U.S. has high rates of vaccination, we seldom see the disease in this country,” Phillips said.
The United States had 140 cases of measles in 2008 and provisional data report 67 cases in 2009; Arkansas had two cases in 2008 and reported no cases last year. Almost all cases can be linked to foreign travel or immigration. All those born before 1957 or who have had two doses of mumps, measles, rubella vaccine (MMR) should be protected or immune from the disease. The MMR vaccination series is part of the childhood immunization series that children receive prior to attending school.
Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus; it is preventable with vaccination. Pregnant women, young children and persons that have compromised immune systems are at particular risk for serious complications from the disease.
The Arkansas Department of Health urges that any Arkansan or visitor to the state that has not been vaccinated for measles receive vaccine from their doctor or at any local health unit statewide.