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Feb 14, 2018

Ministry of Health Gives Update on Measles Threat

The Ministry of Health has been monitoring measles in the region. While to date there are only two confirmed reported cases of the viral infection in Guatemala and Antigua, health authorities are concerned. They say they want to keep the public informed on this very contagious disease since it presents a real threat to Belize.  At a press brief today, the ministry stressed that there are no confirmed or reported cases of the measles in Belize, but want residents to exercise vigilance and to know what to do in the event that there is a measles outbreak. Twelve samples have been sent for testing, but are not highly suspicious samples. News Five’s Andrea Polanco reports.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Measles, also known as ‘rubeola’, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that’s caused by a virus. It is even more contagious than Tuberculosis and Ebola. One sick person can infect as many as eighteen other persons. Measles causes a total-body skin rash and flu-like symptoms, including a fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes, as well as white spots inside the mouth. The disease killed millions across the world before a vaccine was developed in the early 1960’s. The last time Belize had a case of measles was in 1991. But in recent years the diseases has been spreading across Europe and the Americas. In the past weeks, two cases were detected in the region; one in Guatemala and the other in Antigua. There are no known cases of measles in Belize, but it may be a just a matter of time.


Natalia Largaespada Beer

Dr. Natalia Largaespada Beer, Maternal & Child Health Technical Advisor, MOH

“The risk is there because of the tourism season we are in currently and the cases that have been documented in the Americas are all linked with importation. The case in Guatemala was an importation and the case in Antigua, which has been confirmed as importation, they are from Germany and the UK.”



“So it is on the rise in the Americas?”


Dr. Natalia Largaespada Beer

“The numbers are on a rise in the Americas comparing 2016 and 2017. It was ninety-two and then it jumped to two hundred and seventy-one in 2017, so it is coming.   Since the last case diagnosed in 1991, any one case in Belize, any one positive case diagnosed by a laboratory would be an outbreak for Belize. It would employ multiple interventions at community level that would need a lot of resources because we would need to go and work around that one single case in a radius of almost three miles to ensure that everyone there is updated with their vaccine and to provide vaccine to who doesn’t have it.”



And so it is important that you know the facts about this highly infectious disease that is a threat to public health. About ninety percent of those who have never been vaccinated for measles or never had the disease before will get the diseases if they are exposed to someone infected. Measles spreads primarily through coughing and sneezing. The virus remains active and contagious in the air or on infected surfaces for up to two hours. Those infected will be very sick for about seven to ten days. The most at risk are babies, as well as HIV positive persons and others with immune deficiency disorders, but it can affect people of all ages, and frontline personnel are at high risk.


Cecilio Eck

Dr. Cecilio Eck, Head of Pediatrics, K.H.M.H.

“Any baby less than five, those are the ones who get the most complications from it.  The people who are most at risk of getting and transmitting the disease, hence the invitation of the media,  is to make sure all the population are vaccinated especially the upfront personnel such as the immigration officers, police officers, health care workers. So, the Ministry of Works is revamping this program to vaccinate these at risk populations.”


There is no treatment or cure for measles. But once you’ve been vaccinated, whether recently or long ago, it is highly unlikely that you will get the disease. The vaccine is highly effective – preventing twenty million deaths since 2000-2016.


Dr. Natalia Largaespada Beer

“The vaccine is safe and effective. What we are asking is that if persons who come in contact with potential persons who bring the disease to Belize they need to review their vaccination card and if there is no signs of them getting measles vaccine then they would need to come to us.”


Dr. Cecilio Eck

“The first MMR protected ninety-five percent. If a hundred people get it, ninety-five are fully protected. For the second one, it tries to protect the other five percent. So, it takes your personal protection up to ninety-nine point eight percent.”


While there are no known or reported cases in Belize, if you experience symptoms likes fever and rash, you must report it immediately. While the chance of death is low, there are a number of complications associated with the viral infection.


Dr. Cecilio Eck

“Even though it is very, very contagious, the mortality, the people who died who got it is pretty low. The morbidity associated with it, blindness, and problems with learning down the road is at about thirty percent, hence our need to be aware and alert.”


Preventative measures include vaccination; washing of hands; covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing; avoiding contact such as kissing, hugging, sharing of utensils with infected persons; and if there is someone showing signs and symptoms, you must report it to doctor or nurse and avoid public contact or remain quarantined. Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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