JAMAICAN HEALTH authorities yesterday issued an urgent appeal to parents to immediately have their children immunised for measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.
The warning by the health ministry comes in the wake of the current measles outbreak across the United States and in Mexico.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US reports that in the first 28 days of this year, 84 persons across 14 states contracted measles. Most of these cases, the CDC said, are part of a "large ongoing outbreak linked to an amusement park in the state of California".
Last year, the CDC said there were 644 reported cases across 27 states.
Yesterday, acting chief medical officer at the health ministry Dr Marion Bullock-DuCasse gave the assurance that Jamaica is "closely monitoring" developments in the US and Mexico.
"Despite this, we have seen how diseases can cross borders, and so we have to ensure that we keep a close watch on the situation in the US and any other country where measles cases occur," Bullock-DuCasse said in a statement.
"All Jamaicans are, therefore, urged to ensure that they and their children are protected," she continued.
According to the health ministry, the first and most common symptoms of measles include fever, conjunctivitis or sore eyes, and a runny nose.
Other symptoms, it says, include small white spots, which usually develop inside the mouth a day or so later, a harsh dry cough, reduced appetite, tiredness, aches and pains.
The health ministry says after several days, a rash breaks out on the face and upper neck, which spreads downwards, reaching the hands and feet.
"Measles is caused by a virus and is highly contagious. It is spread through direct contact and through the air ... . Complications include pneumonia and can lead to death," the ministry warned.
Despite the concerns, Bullock-DuCasse noted that Jamaica has been free of endemic or local transmission of measles since 1991 and said this is because of the country's expanded immunisation programme.
Meanwhile, the Caribbean Public Health Agency, which issued a measles alert on January 28 this year, has recommended enhanced vigilance across the region, citing the strong travel ties with the US and given that the region is in the midst of the tourism high season.