The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is demanding that evacuees from Afghanistan who have arrived in the United States get vaccinated against measles and quarantined for 21 days, after some were found to be infected with the highly contagious virus when they arrived in the country this month.
On Monday, the CDC said it was aware of 16 confirmed cases measles among Afghan evacuees and Americans who have fled Afghanistan in recent weeks – down from six the White House confirmed last week – and four cases of mumps. Evacuees from U.S. military bases in the United States will have to wait three weeks after obtaining the MMR vaccine which protects against measles, mumps and rubella before they go away, the CDC said, to give the vaccine time to work. The CDC also recommends that people evacuated to military bases overseas also be quarantined; its quarantine authority does not extend to foreign soil.
The agency said Monday that some Afghan evacuees had “left the bases before measles cases were identified,” sparking a mass vaccination campaign. The new information came in a special advisory the agency issued to doctors across the country warning them to be on alert for cases of measles and other infectious diseases among evacuees from Afghanistan.
The advisory said the CDC was “also aware of some cases” of tuberculosis, chickenpox, malaria, leishmaniasis, hepatitis A and Covid-19 among the evacuees. He warned that evacuees were also at increased risk of gastrointestinal infections, including shigellosis, giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis.
President Biden signed a decree who added measles to a list of communicable diseases that may require quarantines.
The CDC said it expected measles infections to spread among evacuees, as only 60% of people living in Afghanistan have been vaccinated and the country ranks seventh in the world for cases of measles, and because the evacuees lived nearby during the evacuation process.
Measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, meaning the disease is no longer endemic, but travelers continue to bring it into the country, posing an ongoing risk to the unvaccinated.
People vaccinated against measles are usually fully protected after two or three weeks, According to the CDC There were 13 confirmed cases of measles in the United States in 2020, according to the agency, and 1,282 in 2019, which was the largest epidemic in the country since 1992. The disease can be particularly dangerous for unvaccinated children, pregnant women and newborns.
Flights carrying Afghan evacuees to the United States have been suspended since earlier this month when a few passengers were infected with measles.
Tens of thousands of Afghans who fled the Taliban in a chaotic evacuation this summer are waiting to be resettled in the United States. Most of them have been waiting on military bases for weeks, whether or not they need to be vaccinated, and stays could stretch for months while they wait to be relocated.
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Most of the evacuees who arrived in the United States made their way to Dulles International Airport in Virginia, and the state declared a measles outbreak in related northern and central areas. According to the Virginia Department of Health website, community transmission of measles has not been identified and authorities consider the risk to the general public to be low.
The CDC urged medics to be on the lookout for measles cases in communities near military bases housing evacuees, including Marine Corps Base Quantico, Fort Lee and Fort Pickett in Virginia; Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico; Fort McCoy in Wisconsin; Fort Bliss in Texas; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey; and Camp Atterbury in Indiana.
The measles virus lives in the nose and throat of infected people and is extremely contagious: about nine in 10 people who are in close contact and unprotected against it will be infected, according to the CDC