With thousands of measles cases reported in South America this year and the risk of imported cases hitting the Caribbean Islands, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) organized a workshop to train 35 Caribbean health officers from 25 Caribbean countries and territories on how to respond rapidly and effectively to any imported cases of measles or rubella in Jamaica.
“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.
Toward this end, the recent PAHO workshop introduced a newly developed methodology and case study from PAHO’s Immunization Unit. Participating health officers learned procedures and methods for timely reporting and high-quality epidemiological investigation of a measles outbreak; how to implement aggressive outbreak-response measures guided by a thorough field investigation; how to distinguish measles and rubella from arboviral diseases like Zika, dengue and chikungunya; and how to interpret laboratory results for diagnostic confirmation.
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.
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