As we reported yesterday, a cruise ship belonging to the Church of Scientology, which had been quarantined on the Caribbean nation of St. Lucia earlier n the week after a case of measles turned up on board, was boarded by authorities in Curacao, a nearby Dutch Caribbean island, who have started vaccinating people to prevent a full-blown measles outbreak.
Back in the US, more than 700 cases of measles have been reported this year already, marking the worst outbreak since the early 1990s, and the worst since Measles was declared 'eradicated' in 2000.
Health officials said only those who already have been vaccinated, or who have already had measles, would be allowed to leave the 440-foot Freewinds.
Curacao epidemiologist Dr. Izzy Gerstenbluth told the AP that a small team will be responsible for examining the more than 300 people aboard the ship.
"We will go on board and do our job," he said, adding that authorities have an international obligation to avoid spreading the disease. "If we allow that to happen, measles spreads in places where the risk of severe complications is much bigger, especially when we're talking about poor countries where people have a lower level of resistance."
Gerstenbluth warned that spreading the disease would be easy give that it is a small ship. Symptoms include a runny nose, fever and a red-spotted rash. Most people recover, but measles can lead to pneumonia, brain swelling and even death in roughly 2 of every 1000 cases.
"This is what happens when we don't vaccinate," he said.
Authorities are worried that people aboard the ship might have been exposed after a female crew member was diagnosed with measles after returning from Europe. Gerstenbluth said she arrived in Curacao on April 17 and visited a doctor April 22 complaining of cold symptoms. A blood sample was taken and sent to nearby Aruba, where officials confirmed it was measles on April 29, a day after the ship had already departed for St. Lucia. Curacao health officials then alerted authorities in St. Lucia.
In the US, the outbreak has spanned more than 20 states and has largely been centered in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York.
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Here are key facts about measles in the US.
- Public health officials blame the measles resurgence on the spread of misinformation about vaccines. A vocal group of parents opposes vaccines, believing that ingredients in them can cause autism. Social networks have resorted to censorship to prevent the spread of any related postings.
- The largest outbreaks are concentrated in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York City’s Williamsburg neighborhood, where some 390 cases have been confirmed, and Rockland County north of New York City, which has recorded 201 cases. Those figures include infections from last year and are not directly comparable to the CDC numbers.
- Other outbreaks have been reported in Washington state, New Jersey, California’s Butte County and Michigan.
- The disease is highly contagious and can be fatal, killing one or two of every 1,000 children who contract it, according to the CDC. It can also cause permanent hearing loss or intellectual disabilities. It poses the greatest risk to unvaccinated young children.
- The United States’ 2000 declaration that measles was eradicated meant that the disease was no longer present in the country year round. Measles remains common in some countries in Europe, Asia and Africa, and unvaccinated travelers to those countries can bring it back to the United States. The current outbreaks are believed to trace back to visits to Israel and Ukraine.
- New York City officials said some 21,000 people have received the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine in affected areas since the outbreak began in October. The city has begun fining unvaccinated adults.
- Lawmakers in Oregon, California and Washington state are considering bills to eliminate nonmedical exemptions that allowed unvaccinated children to attend public schools.
- In order to achieve herd immunity that protects those unable to get the measles vaccine, such as infants and people with compromised immune systems, 90% to 95% of the population needs to be vaccinated.