Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Marion Bullock DuCasse says the Ministry of Health is closely monitoring the measles outbreak which has affected several states in the United States and Mexico. Dr. DuCasse indicated however that Jamaica has been free of endemic (local) transmission of measles since 1991 because of the success of its Expanded Programme on Immunization.
“Through the Expanded Programme on Immunization which was established in 1977, endemic measles transmission was interrupted in 1991. Our immunization coverage is usually in the 90% range. Despite this, we have seen how diseases can cross borders and so we have to ensure that we keep a close watch on the situation in the United States and any other country where measles cases occur. All Jamaicans are therefore urged to ensure that they and their children are protected,” Dr. DuCasse said.
She says parents who have not immunized their children against measles and other vaccine preventable diseases for their age should do so immediately as they will be susceptible to these diseases.
The most common and first symptoms of measles include a fever, conjunctivitis or sore eyes and a runny nose. Small white spots usually develop inside the mouth a day or so later. A harsh dry cough is usual, as well as a reduction in appetite, tiredness, aches and pains. After several days, a rash erupts on the face and upper neck, which spreads downwards, reaching the hands and feet.
Measles is caused by a virus and is highly contagious. It is spread through direct contact and through the air. Complications include pneumonia and can lead to death.
The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) issued a measles alert on January 28, 2015 due to the outbreak which is affecting several US states and Mexico. The agency has recommended enhanced vigilance given the strong travel ties between the Caribbean and the USA, and given that the Region is in the midst of the tourism high season.
The Caribbean sub-region has been successful in maintaining a measles-free status since 1991.