RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) said Tuesday that it is investigating five cases of measles among individuals who took part in evacuation flights from Afghanistan.
VDH is working to notify anyone who was potentially exposed at several locations across the commonwealth, including Fort Pickett, Dulles International Airport and a Richmond area hospital.
The vast majority of Virginians are immunized against measles as part of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, administered in two doses prior to the start of kindergarten, according to VDH. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that, as of 2015, by the time children in the U.S. reach the age of 2, more than 90% have gotten their MMR immunization. That vaccine confers lifetime immunity.
But vaccination rates among children have declined in recent years from a peak in 2015-2016. While measles is very uncommon in the United States, thanks to successful vaccination campaigns, it’s still endemic in many other countries.
VDH will directly contact anyone they believe was exposed, but they also stressed the importance of the MMR vaccine as a preventative measure, noting that maintaining a high level of vaccination reduces risk to the community.
For those who were potentially exposed at a Richmond area hospital on Friday, Sept. 10, Richmond and Henrico Health Districts (RHHD) Deputy Director Dr. Melissa Viray told 8News that they have already been notified.
She said the illness can become more severe.
“We don’t see measles as much in the U.S., so people aren’t as afraid,” Viray said. “It can kill. Measles can kill — in particular, when it happens to children less than five or in adults over 20 or in pregnant women, it can have severe complications.”
However, Viray said that any international travelers can put themselves at risk by not staying up to date on vaccines.
“Any time you travel to a foreign country, any time you travel to abroad, you may be traveling into areas that put you at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases. So it goes in both directions,” she said. “That’s why it’s critically important that people [are] up to date on their vaccination, so that no matter where you go or who comes in, whether it be for tourism, for other reasons, you’re protected.”
In the meantime, the Associated Press reported that Afghan refugees are being required to receive the measles vaccine before they enter the United States, among other immunizations.
“Every year, for years on end, we used to just have this wave of infections and complications we don’t have anymore,” Viray said. “If we give that chance to rise up again, it could really tear our communities apart all over again, on top of what we’re already doing with COVID.”