Following a measles outbreak in the United States (U.S) and a few reported cases in Canada, the Public Health Department has issued an alert to travelers to and from these regions.
“Although there is no need to be alarmed at this stage, we ask that anyone returning from the U.S. where there is currently an outbreak, and who are experiencing a sudden high fever accompanied by a rash to seek medical attention immediately. Persons should also provide their travel history to the attending physician for necessary investigation,” said Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr Samuel Williams.
From 1 January to 6 February, 2015, 121 people from 17 states were reported to have measles. Most of these cases are part of a large, ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California. Most of the cases were among the unvaccinated or without evidence of vaccination. On 23 January, 2015, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) issued a health advisory providing guidance for healthcare providers nationwide.
The measles outbreak has been reported in the following American States: Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington DC.
Since 3 February 2015, four laboratory cases of measles have been reported in Ontario, Canada with eight suspected measles cases under investigation from Quebec.
“If you are travelling to any of the affected areas with a measles outbreak, safeguard yourself and your family by ensuring that yours and your children’s immunizations against measles are up-to-date,” advised Dr. Williams.
He added, “Unprotected children are at the greatest risk of contracting this virus, should a case be imported. It is the duty of parents and guardians to ensure that their children are protected.”
For complete protection, children over 12 months of age should have 2 doses of MMR (measles mumps and rubella) vaccine. Any child over 6- 11 months of age travelling abroad is recommended to have one dose of MMR vaccine.
Dr Williams assures the community that the Public Health Department has advised healthcare workers in the private and public sectors of the CDC alert and will continue to monitor the situation and advise residents accordingly.
There has been no measles in the Cayman Islands since 1990 and local immunization coverage against measles and mumps is around 90 percent among 15 months old and about 97 percent by the time they reach school entry age (4-5yrs).
The Caribbean itself, this year celebrated its twenty- fourth year without an indigenous case of the measles. Measles is however, still common in many developing countries particularly in Africa and Asia and people visiting these regions should pay attention to possible symptoms.
“Regionally, while there has been great progress, once again I emphasise that measles can be reintroduced as we have many residents and visitors travelling to and from the affected areas and we should therefore remain vigilant,” Dr. Williams noted.
“The first sign of measles is usually a high fever which begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus. A runny nose, cough along with red and watery eyes and small white spots inside the cheeks can develop in the initial stage followed by a rash on the face and upper neck, eventually reaching the hands and feet,” he explained.
Measles is caused by a virus which grows in the cells that line the back of the throat and lungs. Measles is a human disease and is not known to occur in animals.
Close contact with other people for seven days following onset of rash must be avoided.