The Virginia Department of Health said it contacted people potentially exposed to measles by at least five evacuees from Afghanistan over the past week, at Dulles Airport, Fort Pickett and a hospital in the Richmond area.
The VDH last week flagged several sites in northern Virginia for potential measles exposure, but confirmed Tuesday that five people had in fact been diagnosed with the viral disease.
“People have confirmed that they recently traveled from Afghanistan as part of the United States government’s emergency evacuation efforts,” he added. VDH said in a statement, adding that it was “Reach out to people” that may have been exposed.
Washington Dulles International Airport, an unnamed hospital in the state capital of Richmond, and the US Army base called Fort Pickett in neighboring Nottoway County have been mentioned as potential sites.
More than 110,000 Afghan nationals were evacuated by the United States during the two-week airlift from Kabul after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of people have already been brought to the United States, despite concerns about their health and – in some cases – even their identities.
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Flights bringing in Afghan refugees were temporarily halted last week after a total of six suspected measles cases were identified at Dulles Airport, the U.S. capital’s main international hub, and a military base in the Wisconsin. The moratorium remains in place, a White House official told reporters on Tuesday, until refugees can be vaccinated against measles at US military bases overseas.
The VDH said there was no reason for the general public to be alarmed, since most Americans are required to obtain the “Safe and effective” MMR vaccine in young children, which provides lifelong immunity.
Measles, also known as rubella, is a highly contagious viral disease that is spread by droplets expelled by coughing and sneezing. Most Americans were vaccinated against it when they were young, but it is endemic in parts of the world, such as Afghanistan.
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The United States experienced a major measles outbreak in 2019, nearly losing its WHO status for eliminating the disease. More than 1,000 cases have been attributed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to just two travelers returning from overseas and bringing the virus into the “Pockets of low vaccine coverage and variable vaccine acceptance” among the Orthodox Jewish communities of the city and state of New York.
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