First measles case in 20 years reported in Austin, Texas. Meanwhile, the small island of Samoa has reported over 5000 cases in a devastating outbreak.
Public health officials are warning that five U.S. airports had travelers pass through with confirmed cases of measles this month, potentially exposing numerous other passengers to the highly infectious disease.
In Chicago, an individual with measles traveled through two terminals at O’Hare International Airport over the course of a week. On Dec. 17, the individual passed through O’Hare’s Terminal 1, and on Dec. 12, they passed through O’Hare’s Terminal 3, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.
The health department noted Chicago has one of the highest rates of measles, mumps and rubella vaccination in the nation.
In Virginia, a person with the measles visited Richmond International Airport on Dec. 17, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
One of the impacted cities is Austin, Texas, which has reported its first case of measles in 20 years.
“It appears that this individual contracted this disease while traveling in Europe in late November to early December,” Dr. Mark Escott, interim head of Austin Public Health, said during a news conference Monday.
Escott told reporters that the patient became ill Dec. 14, and developed a rash Dec. 17. During that time frame, the person visited several Austin-area restaurants and a Target store.
The other airports that have had reports of measles-infected passengers are Los Angeles’ LAX and Denver International.
Three unvaccinated children traveled to a country with an ongoing measles outbreak in early December and tested positive for measles when they returned.
The children visited parts of Denver International Airport on Dec. 11, including Concourse A, the baggage area and the pickup area, Colorado’s Tri-County Health Department reported. The children also traveled through Terminals 4 and 5 at Los Angeles International Airport on Dec. 11, according to the Los Angeles Department of Public Health.
With 1276 infected in 31 states so far this year, the Centers for Disease Control note that this is the highest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1992.
However, as bad as the measles outbreak has been here, it has been brutal in Samoa.
On October 16, the ministry of health in the tiny Pacific Island nation sent notice of a measles outbreak within its borders. A month later, the Samoan government declared a state of emergency over the rapidly spreading virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). By December 10, Samoa had counted 4,819 measles cases, including 70 measles-related deaths.
To put this into perspective, Samoa has a population of around 196,000. In the US, with more than 1,600 times the people, even in a very bad measles year, like 2019, the government recorded 1,200 measles cases.
In such a small country, almost everyone knows someone who has been affected, Sheldon Yett, UNICEF representative to the Pacific, told the BBC. “People are nervous, people are seeing the impact of this disease.” Most of the cases and deaths have occurred in small children, under the age of 5.
In response, Australia has been shipping child-size coffins to bury the dead. Schools across the island have had to shut down over the past couple of months, and public gatherings have been banned. The health system is strained trying to keep up with the onslaught of cases, and while there’s no tally on the cost of the outbreak, it’s sure to be huge.
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