Mon | Nov 18, 2019

High alert at ports over US measles outbreak

Published:Sunday | April 14, 2019 | 12:42 AMJanet Silvera - Senior Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU:

There is heightened alert at the island’s airports and seaports owing to an outbreak of measles in the United States, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has said.

Emphasising that the ministry was taking precautionary measures while not seeking to cause panic in the public, the minister stated that once there was a threat from a particular area, health officials are placed on alert and are urged to exercise greater scrutiny over visitors coming to the island.

His advice to persons coming into the island: “Just take precautions and respond to health officials at the points of entry.”

However, MBJ Ltd, operators of Sangster International Airport, in the resort city of Montego Bay, St James, says she has not been advised of any ramping up of health surveillance.

“MBJ has not been advised of any precautionary measures regarding this latest measles outbreak. Therefore, I have directed the query to MoH (Ministry of Health) for response,” said Sharon Hislop-Holt, manager of commercial business development and marketing.

STATE OF EMERGENCY

Among one of the most infectious viruses in the world, the aggressiveness of the disease forced authorities in New York City on Wednesday to declare a state of emergency, requiring persons exposed to be vaccinated immediately.

Preliminary reports show that some 465 people have been infected in the USA since the start of the year, the second-largest number of cases since measles was eliminated in 2000. The bulk of the persons affected reside in New York City, which is one of the biggest tourism source markets for Jamaica and a number of other Caribbean islands.

The Ministry of Health revealed that the last case of indigenous measles in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean occurred in 1991, but cases have been imported here over the years. However, there has been no local transmission or outbreak, health authorities say.

Jamaica’s immunisation record has been so robust that the Ministry has sought to immunize at least 95 per cent of children 12–23 months against measles, mumps, and rubella.

Unlike Jamaica, the US has been fighting with anti-vaccination movements, which the World Health Organization (WHO) says is among the 10 threats to global health in 2019. Measles has increased by 30 per cent globally, killing more than 100,000 people annually.

Caused by a virus that replicates in the nose and throat of an infected child or adult, the virus circulates worldwide and about 90 per cent of susceptible people (persons not vaccinated) who are exposed to someone with the virus will be infected, says the MOH brief.

The infection kills more children than any other vaccine-preventable disease.

Owing to a decrease in uptake over the last few years, the ministry says that it is encouraging all parents to visit their nearest health centres to ensure that their children are fully vaccinated.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com