Measles Outbreak Aboard Cruise Ship Prompts Saint Lucia to Quarantine Vessel

A cruise ship has been quarantined on the Carribbean island of Saint Lucia after medical officials received reports of a passenger with measles onboard.

The unidentified vessel was detained in port on Tuesday, according to a statement released by the nation's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Merlene Fredericks-James. The St. Lucia Times quoted Fredericks-James as saying no crew or passengers had been allowed to leave the affected ship for fear they may cause an outbreak.

"We got information early this morning through two sources—two reputable sources—that there was a confirmed case of measles on a cruise ship that visited our Island," Fredericks-James explained in a video statement.

The chief medical officer did not give the name of the vessel nor of the company operating it, but said the decision had been taken following discussion and consultation with the Pan American Health Organization and Saint Lucian officials.

Such drastic action was required given the highly-infectious nature of the disease, Fredericks-James added. "One infected person can easily infect others through coughing, sneezing, droplets being on various surfaces, etcetera. So because of the risk of potential infection—not just from the confirmed measles case but from other persons who may be on the boat at the time—we thought it prudent not to allow anyone to disembark."

According to St. Lucia News Online, Acting National Epidemiologist Dr. Michelle Francois earlier said citizens should remain vigilant of a measles outbreak, even though the island has been free of local transmission of the disease since 1990.

Fredericks-James echoed the warning, noting the risk of regular travel to the U.S., Europe and other regions where measles outbreaks are common. She also noted that those visiting the island from such locations put locals at risk, and asked Saint Lucians to make sure their vaccinations—and their children's—were up to date. Fredericks-James cited current outbreaks in the U.S. as an example of the danger, adding such incidents are being driven by Americans refusing to be innoculated.

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the U.S. is experiencing its highest number of measles cases for 25 years, with 704 cases identified across 22 states in 2019 thus far.

More than 500 of those infected had not been vaccinated against the disease and more than one third of cases involved children under the age of 5. The figures are striking given that measles was eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but a wave of anti-vaccination conspiracy theories and misinformation has hampered efforts to fight the virus.

The CDC noted some 7 million measles cases occur around the world annually, and that since 2016 the rate of infection has increased in five of the six World Health Organization regions.

Also this week, UNICEF reported that around 21.1 million children have missed their first dose of the measles vaccine every year for the past eight years. Two doses are required for the vaccine to work, and UNICEF said the data indicated the seeds of the current global outbreaks were sown years ago.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the number of children not vaccinated for measles in the U.S. compared to other developed countries.

Number of children not vaccinated for measles in the U.S. compared to other developed countries. Statista