The Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization is urging international travellers and expats to get vaccinated against measles and rubella to reduce the risk of reintroducing these two diseases which have been eliminated from the Americas.
They have issued an epidemiological alert ahead of an expected surge in international travel expected for upcoming cultural and sporting events hosted by countries in the Americas.
In addition to recommending vaccination of travellers to the Americas, the alert also recommends that residents of the Western Hemisphere get vaccinated before travelling to other regions.
‘Travellers who have not been vaccinated against measles and rubella are at risk of contracting these diseases when visiting countries where the viruses are currently circulating,’ they said in a joint statement.
It added that women of childbearing age needs to make special efforts to ensure they are vaccinated against rubella, which can cause foetal death or serious birth defects if contracted during pregnancy.
The Region of the Americas is the only region in the world that has eliminated measles and rubella, mirroring earlier successes in becoming the first region to eliminate smallpox and polio. The last case of endemic measles was reported in the Western Hemisphere in 2002 and the last case of endemic rubella in 2009. The countries of the hemisphere, coordinated by PAHO/WHO, are currently in the process of documenting and officially verifying the elimination of these two diseases.
While imported cases occur sporadically, widespread vaccination has prevented their spread and is considered essential to maintaining elimination.
According to the alert, international travellers over six months of age who are unable to provide evidence of immunity through an immunisation record or a positive blood test for measles and rubella antibodies should get vaccinated for measles and rubella or, preferably, should get the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Ideally, the vaccine should be administered at least two weeks before departure.
Exceptions to these recommendations include travellers who present medical indications that they should not undergo vaccination for measles and rubella. Infants under six months old should not be vaccinated. Infants who receive the MMR vaccine before their first birthday must be revaccinated according to the vaccination schedule in their country.
The alert also urges travellers to be on the alert during their trip and upon their return for symptoms including fever, rash, cough, runny nose or conjunctivitis.
Travellers who believe they have contracted measles or rubella should confine themselves to their lodging, except for visiting a doctor, and should avoid public places and contact with other people for seven days following the onset of rash.
The alert, which was sent to the ministries of health of PAHO/WHO member countries, urges health authorities to include private healthcare providers in their surveillance systems and to alert healthcare workers in both the private and public sectors to the possible presence of both diseases, reminding them that suspected cases must be notified immediately to health authorities.
The alert also encourages the healthcare sector to require proof of immunity for measles and rubella as a pre-requisite for employment (for medical, administrative and security personnel). It also recommends vaccination of personnel in the tourism and transportation sectors.