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MOH screening for measles at ports of entry — Tufton

Monday Exchange

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Observer senior reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

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MINISTER of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton says public health officers are routinely screening visitors to the island for measles in a bid to stave off the probability of importing the disease to the island.

There has not been an outbreak of measles in Jamaica since the 1970s when administering the MMR vaccine — MMR1 at 12 months and MMR2 at 18 months — became routine.

But Tufton says the risk of imported cases is great as a result of international travel.

Speaking to editors and reporters at yesterday's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper's headquarters in Kingston, Tufton said he remains “very concerned” about the epidemic, which has hit the 1,000 mark in the United States (US) and which accounted for 37 deaths across Europe in 2018.

“We cannot have a jurisdiction, New York, for example — where you have nearly 50 flights coming here on a weekly basis [and] where you have a measles outbreak which is highly contagious — and the probability of it happening is not high,” Dr Tufton said.

New York has been at the centre of the US measles outbreak.

“When you look at places like New York it is very concerning to us and so we have asked our health people to be on high alert at our borders, and sometimes it causes delays, which tourism interests don't like, but we just really want to check people. The truth is, you really don't want it, but I am sufficiently concerned about it to say that the probability of having a case is possible based on global movements and the logistics of people,” the minister offered.

The health and wellness ministry says that in order to stop measles from spreading, 95 per cent of children in Jamaica need to be fully vaccinated with the two doses of the MMR vaccine.

Dr Tufton said that, to date, there has been one imported case of measles in the island — a child visting from Canada.

“To date, we've had one recovering measles patient who's coming in from Canada. [He] ended up at a hotel, went to Hospiten. I think the Opposition member raised issues around it and said there was a measles case. The point is they had complications from measles but that was one case — an imported case,” he said.

Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family and is normally transmitted through direct contact and through the air. The virus infects the respiratory tract, then spreads throughout the body, typically presenting with a high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. Symptoms usually appear 10-12 days after exposure to an infected person but may appear as early as seven days and as late as 21 days after exposure.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said before the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963 and widespread vaccination, major epidemics occurred approximately every two to three years and measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year.

Approximately 110,000 people died from measles in 2017 – mostly children under the age of five years, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine, the WHO said.

Minister Tufton said while the ministry has championed the importance of vaccination in fighting measles and other communicable diseases, the emerging anti-vaccine lobby, which is backed by “powerful interests with great resources” and which is making effective use of social media, presents a challenge.

“The argument normally is that you're contaminating your body with a virus as part of resisting that virus, and the ill effects of that. We reject that notion; vaccines have saved over two million lives globally each year, according to WHO and it is in the interest of our country to vaccinate,” the country's chief health policymaker said.

He noted that the most recent resistance to vaccination the country has seen was in relation to HPV, the most common types of which can cause cervical cancer.

The health and wellness ministry last week issued a travel advisory relating for measles on 12 countries, including the US and Canada.

The other countries identified were Argentina, The Bahamas, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

The ministry advised travellers to these countries to ensure that they are adequately vaccinated before travelling.


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