Five people who recently traveled to Virginia from Afghanistan as part of the federal government’s emergency evacuation have been diagnosed with measles, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
The state health department is reaching out to people in several regions of the state who may have been exposed to those diagnosed with the contagious disease, according to a press release.
The Richmond and Henrico Health Districts have worked with a Richmond area hospital to identify individuals potentially exposed at the hospital on Friday. In addition, the Piedmont Health District is working with federal partners to identify exposures at Fort Pickett in Nottoway County.
On Friday, health departments in Northern Virginia announced they were working together to identify people who may have been exposed at Dulles International Airport and other locations.
VDH is identifying locations to alert the public of the possible risk, the press release stated. In the case of limited exposures, the health department contacts those individuals directly.
Most Americans are vaccinated against measles as children and get lifetime immunity against the highly contagious illness. Like COVID-19, measles are spread through coughing, sneezing and contact with droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of an infected individual.
State health officials urge parents to make sure children are up to date on their childhood vaccinations. Inoculation against measles is given as part of the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine series. Two doses are recommended; one at age 12-15 months and the other before starting kindergarten.
Health officials also recommend that people traveling internationally be evaluated for measles immunity and get vaccinated as needed, as the disease is common in many parts of the world, including popular tourist destinations. Infants too young to be vaccinated should avoid travel to areas with measles until they can be vaccinated, according to the VDH.
The United States experienced a measles outbreak in 2019, when 1,282 cases were confirmed in 31 states. It was the greatest number of cases reported in the country since 1992, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The high number of cases were the result of outbreaks in Washington state and New York, some of which started in 2018. The outbreaks in New York City and throughout the state were among “the largest and longest lasting” since measles were eliminated in 2000, according to the CDC.
“The longer these outbreaks continue, the greater the chance measles will again get a sustained foothold in the United States,” the CDC stated.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425