Measles scare causes cancellation of cruise ship visit

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A United States-based cruise ship that had been quarantined in St Lucia after a case of measles was re- ported on board, has can- celled one of its scheduled calls to Antigua and Barbuda.

Freewinds, which is said to be owned and operated by the Church of Scientology, has informed its local agent, Bryson’s Shipping, of its decision to cancel its May 7th to 9th visit to the country.

Yesterday, a representative from Bryson’s Shipping confirmed that the company was in receipt of the notification from the executives of the cruise line.

The company’s representative said while the calls scheduled for later this week have been cancelled, the management of the vessel provided no information about other calls that were also scheduled from May 15th to 20th and from May 29th to 30th. Earlier on Thursday, local health authorities said they were committed to doing whatever was possible to ensure that there was no re-introduction of measles in Antigua and Barbuda. Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Rhonda Sealey-Thomas gave that assurance after the news broke that St. Lucian officials had refused to allow anyone to disembark from the Freewinds vessel after the case of measles was reported on board. Dr. Sealey-Thomas said she was deeply concerned by the development.

“We are aware of the situation in St. Lucia and we have been monitoring it.

Rest assured that the Ministry of Health will take any measure to protect the pub- lic against the introduction of any threatening disease in Antigua and Barbuda,” the CMO said. “Last year, the ministry had an imported case of measles and the Ministry of Health had to work fever- ishly to get that under control. We will take any measure that is needed to protect the public,” she added. The CMO also explained that while the ministry does not have control over the ship’s itinerary, there are cer- tain things that can be done within the ambit of the law.

“There are laws in Antigua and Barbuda that will empower the Ministry of Health and other officials to take any necessary measure for any vessel, or persons on- board a vessel, that can threaten us in Antigua and Barbuda,” Dr. Sealey- Thomas said.

Any action taken by the ministry would be in accordance with local laws and international health regulations, and in collabo- ration with other sectors, she said. Meantime, the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Lionel “Max” Hurst, also confirmed that the government was aware of the reports coming out of St. Lucia and was actively monitoring the situation.

Several non-profit organizations in the country are also intensely promoting fundraising activities that were due to take place on board the Freewinds this month.

One of those organiza- tions is the Friends of Mount St John’s Medical Center (MSJMC) whose “Rock Da Boat” event was planned for May 8th. That event is currently sold out, according to a no- tice circulated by the Friends of MSJMC. A church group is also planning an event carded for May 25th.

Meanwhile, a health of- ficial in St Lucia, Dr Merlene Fredericks-James, confirmed the case of measles on board the vessel and thought it prudent that the ship be placed under quarantine and so no one was allowed to disembark. Dr Fredericks-James said, in a video statement posted on YouTube on Tues- day, that the ministry learned of the confirmed measles case from “two rep- utable sources”.

She cited the fact that measles was a highly conta- gious disease as a factor in the decision. “One infected person can easily infect others through coughing, sneezing, droplets being on various surfaces, etc. 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 to make a decision not to allow anyone to dis- embark.”

She also cited the current situation in the US, where cases of the disease are at a 25-year high, as another factor

Measles is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus that replicates in the nose and throat of an infected child or adult. Then, when someone with measles coughs, sneezes or talks, infected droplets spray into the air, where other people can inhale them. The infected droplets may also land on a surface, where they remain active and contagious for several hours. One can contract the virus by putting the fingers in the mouth or nose or rubbing the eyes after touching the infected surface.

About 90 percent of susceptible people who are ex- posed to someone with the virus will be infected. Signs and symptoms of measles typically include fever, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, in- flamed eyes (conjunctivitis), and tiny white spots with bluish-white centers on a red background found in- side the mouth on the inner lining of the cheek — also called Koplik’s spots.

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