Measles continues to be a threat all over the world, even making resurgences close to home. During the last decade we have seen measles outbreaks in places where this disease is considered a rare occurrence. The most recent cases were reported in Vancouver, British Columbia, and San Francisco and Amador Counties in California.
Two factors explain the resurgence of measles in our communities: International travel and lack of immunization. The cases in Vancouver show that people who contracted the infection were not vaccinated or did not follow-up with the second dose required for effective protection. Add travel to the mix and you have the recipe for spreading this highly contagious disease.
Here at home, even if you are not vaccinated you may not be exposed to vaccine preventable infectious diseases because people around you are vaccinated (herd immunity). If you are not vaccinated or only partially vaccinated and are travelling to endemic areas where immunization rates in the local population are low, you are at high risk of getting infected. Since the incubation period (time before symptoms appear) for measles is approximately 8-12 days you may unwittingly bring it back home and spread it to unvaccinated or under vaccinated people in your community.
Measles is a respiratory infection caused by the paramyxovirus and spread through infected air droplets and saliva. Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, followed by a rash spreading all over the body. Complications may lead to death. Children, teenagers and young adults are at higher risk of contracting the disease.
Before you travel, find out about the health risks at your destination. The latest outbreaks in February and March 2010 were reported from South Africa (Western Cape province), Zimbabwe (Bulawayo), the Philippines (throughout the country), Nigeria (Bayelsa State), Malawi (Blantyre and Lilongwe), New Zealand (Hokianga region), and Afghanistan (North Waziristan).
IAMAT recommends that you consult your doctor to determine your immunization status and update your routine immunizations if needed before travel.
For more information: World Health Organization: Measles