A Scientology cruise ship is under quarantine in Curaçao until officials determine how many passengers are infected with measles. (Photo: PROVIDED)

The Virgin Islands is at risk of measles and other diseases being reintroduced into the territory amidst a spike in measles cases in the United States and a high-profile case in a Scientology cruise ship currently docked in Curaçao, according to a Tuesday press release from Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone.

Mr. Malone said that although the Virgin Islands was declared measles free in 2015, it is at particular risk of diseases being reintroduced into the territory because of the hundreds of thousands of visitors it receives annually.

“A large portion of these visitors come from countries where measles and rubella may be everyday occurrences,” he said in the statement.

In the US

As of Friday there had been 764 individual cases of measles confirmed in 23 states in the US this year by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And in the Caribbean a Scientology cruise ship docked in Curaçao is currently under quarantine after a crew member was diagnosed with measles on April 29, according to the Associated Press.

The crew member had arrived in Curaçao on April 17 after traveling to Europe and visited a doctor for cold symptoms on April 22.

A blood sample confirmed she had measles on April 29, a day after the ship had de- parted for St Lucia.

St Lucia health officials put the ship under quarantine on April 30. It left St Lucia last Thursday and returned to Curaçao on Saturday.

The ship will remain under quarantine until officials determine how many of the 318 passengers are infected with measles.

Around the world

The World Health Organization reported a 300 percent in- crease in measles cases in the first three months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018.

Measles is a highly contagious virus spread through coughing and sneezing and can have deadly complications, particularly in children.

Symptoms include high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes and generally appear seven to 14 days after infection.

WHO has named “vaccine hesitancy” or “the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines” as one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019.

Mr. Malone said in his statement that his ministry is working with the BVI Health Services Authority, the Caribbean Public Health Agency, and the Pan American Health Organization on precautionary measures.

He urged children and adults in the VI to confirm with their health care providers that they have received two doses of the MMR vaccine.

In 2015 PAHO reported 100 percent vaccination coverage in the VI for the first dose of the vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella and 88 percent coverage for the second dose. It did not report any cases of vaccine-preventable diseases aside from eight cases of chickenpox between 2013 and 2015.

“We have over 90 to 95 percent immunisation coverage for the territory’s children, and back in 2000 we conducted a campaign that targeted 22-44-year-olds to be immunised against the measles and rubella disease,” Expanded Programme on Immunisation Manager Marina Bedeau said in a Monday press release from the BVIHSA. “Our mission now is to obtain 98 to 100 percent coverage of children 1 to 10 years old.”