With summer travel just beginning to destinations worldwide, some wonder what’s being done to prevent measles outbreaks from accelerating in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the increase in measles is due in large part to travelers who get the disease abroad and bring it back to the U.S., then spread the highly contagious virus to unvaccinated people.
As reported in a recent Forbes piece, The World Health Organization has shown that measles cases worldwide have risen 300% in the first three months of 2019 compared to the same period last year. Africa was the worst impacted, with cases up 700%. So far this year, 170 countries have reported 112,163 measles cases to the WHO; last year during the same time-frame, 163 countries reported 28,124 cases. The stats could be even worse, as WHO maintains that only one in ten cases globally gets reported.
In the first months of 2019, 940 individual measles cases have been confirmed in the U.S., the highest in 25 years. Measles were declared eliminated in 2000, but the disease is back because of anti-vaccination activists and parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.
States that have reported measles cases to the CDC include Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, and Washington.
The disease spread among unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York State, New York City, and New Jersey after travelers brought measles back from Israel, which has an outbreak of its own. New York City has made vaccinations mandatory and religious leaders are urging their followers to get vaccinated.
What to do about it?
Health officials in five states, including New York, have contacted the CDC about travelers who have been exposed to measles. And to fight the spread of the virus, Federal authorities are considering banning people exposed to the measles from flying. According to CNN, health officials would discourage a contagious passenger from traveling on a plane, and if their verifiable attempts fail, they can contact the CDC for assistance.
If that fails, the CDC will work with the airline to cancel the flight and waive fees, and the Department of Homeland Security would place the person on a public health do-not-board list, which tells the airline not to issue a boarding pass.
The Washington Post reported that eight people across the country have canceled their travel plans rather than being placed on a federal do-not-board list maintained by the CDC. These unvaccinated people were either confirmed to be infected or had a high probability of having measles, being exposed to those who did.
Sick travelers can also be placed on a Lookout list so they can be detected if they attempt to enter the U.S. The threat of ending up on a government list is enough to prevent most people from trying to fly.
The do-not-board list was first implemented in 2007 to block a man infected with drug-resistant tuberculosis from traveling to Europe; CNN notes that it was also used to prevent measles patients from flying.