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Caribbean countries and territories are better prepared to keep imported measles from sparking outbreaks

By PAHO/WHO

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(PAHO/WHO) — It’s been more than 25 years since the Caribbean reported its last case of indigenous measles. But the risk of imported cases has persisted because measles continues to circulate in countries around the world.

To protect its member countries and territories in the region, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) recently held a three-day workshop in Jamaica on preparedness and response to imported measles and rubella cases. The trainees were 35 health officers specialized in immunization and/or epidemiology from 25 Caribbean countries and territories.

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases in the world. Just one imported case can cause a local outbreak, which if not controlled can spread quickly and widely. This is what happened in neighboring South and North America over the past two years. Through late September of this year, 11 countries in the hemisphere reported 6,629 confirmed cases of measles, including 72 deaths. Most of the cases were in South America, especially Venezuela and Brazil.

“The recent experience of measles outbreaks in Latin America highlights the importance of strengthening not just our surveillance systems and coverage with MMR [measles, mumps and rubella vaccine] but also the rapid response to outbreaks,” said Dr Karen Lewis-Bell, PAHO Regional Advisor on Immunization for the Caribbean.

Since its last indigenous case of measles in 1991, the Caribbean has reported six imported cases in four countries and one import-related case. But given the recent upsurge in cases elsewhere in the Americas and the high increase in infections and extended outbreaks in Europe, PAHO experts and local health authorities want to ensure that the Caribbean is able to cope with any imported cases and forestall any major outbreak.

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