Reports of three people, some residing in Boston and the other in Santa Fe, contacting measles are stark reminders of how contagious the infectious disease is and how important it is to stay up-to-date with vaccinations. For the sake not only of one’s own help and for public health, it’s especially important to make sure one has all the necessary vaccines prior to international travel: The 27-year old Santa Fe women was not immunized and had traveled back from London via three different US airports.
Says USA Today about the Sante Fe woman:
Public health officials are warning travelers and workers present at four U.S. airports on two recent days that they may have been exposed to measles from a traveler arriving from London.
Authorities said Saturday that a New Mexico woman later confirmed to have measles arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport late in the afternoon of Feb. 20. Two days later, the measles-infected traveler departed from BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport near Baltimore on an evening flight to Denver, Colo., and then on to Albuquerque, N.M.
The traveler became sick and was subsequently diagnosed with measles in New Mexico, said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said Saturday night that authorities in those states are trying to notify travelers who sat close to the infected passenger on the flights.
ERV, a graduate student studying the molecular and biochemical evolution of HIV who writes on Science Blogs, puzzles over how a 27-year-old could not have easily gotten vaccinated. Measles, as ERV points out, is now endemic in London: It’s terrible that the Santa Fe resident is ill, but the fact is that, by not taking health precautions, she has potentially and significantly endangered the health of many others at the airports she traveled through, on the planes she traveled on, and anywhere in the Sante Fe area she passed through prior to discovering that she has measles.
Three adults in Boston have also contracted measles, the February 25th Boston Globe reports. City officials are now suspecting that the ‘infectious ailment may be on the move beyond the Back Bay office building where a woman went to work while harboring the disease.’ The first person reported to have contracted measles is an employee of the French consulate, but neither of the two additional people who have been confirmed to have the disease worked in the Park Square building that she does. Says the Boston Globe
One of the women newly suspected of having the disease — she is in her 20s — lives in the same Boston building as the original case, said Dr. Anita Barry, top disease investigator at the Boston Public Health Commission. “They would have been directly sharing air space,’’ said Barry, who declined to specify whether the women were roommates.
The second suspected case reported to health authorities yesterday involves a 36-year-old woman who frequented the bustling restaurants in the Park Square entertainment district. The French consulate employee was a regular in those establishments, too, Barry said.
Neither of the women with possible cases of measles has needed to stay in a hospital, Barry said. Laboratory tests will be conducted to confirm whether they have the disease, which is heralded by a fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes, and, a few days after those original symptoms, a rash.
Writing in the Pediatrics blog at About.com, Vincent Ianelli, M.D., cites the case of an infant from Clark County, Washington, who had contracted measles during a recent visit to India where there are about 40,000 cases of measles a year. The infant’s parents took their sick child to the pediatrician’s office and toa nearby hospital for tests: Any children and parents in those locations have now been exposed to measles as a result, though no additional cases have yet been confirm.
Dr. Ianelli underscores how these cases are simple evidence about the sorts of precautions people must take when they travel internationally:
While many vaccine-preventable infections are well controlled or have been eliminated in the United States, most are still a big problem around the world. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, ‘In 2008, there were 164,000 measles deaths globally – nearly 450 deaths every day or 18 deaths every hour. ‘ And measles remains one of the leading causes of death in children.
While measles cases in the U.S. have been reduced to fewer than 150 annually since 1997 due to immunizatons, the diesase is still common worldwide, with an estimated 10 million cases and 164,000 deaths globally each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionl this is why the CDC recommends that U.S. citizens traveling or living abroad remain up to date on immunizations. A 2008 CDC report noted that the risk for measles transmission by air travel in the United States “is considered low because of high U.S. population immunity,’ but the case of the Santa Fe resident suggests that that ‘high population immunity’ may not be as strong as it has been.
Due to fears of some link between vaccines and autism, more than a few parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children, or to ‘spread out’ vaccinations. But a lower vaccination rate means lowered ‘herd immunity‘ in a population—when a significant proportion of a population has been vaccinated against a disease, those who not been vaccinated (such as infants or, in the case above, the Santa Fe resident) have a measure of protection.
So if you’ve international travel plans in the near future (Spring Break is just around the corner for many college students), please make sure you or your child are up-to-date with your vaccinations. It can make all the difference in the health of the world.
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