Immunization is needed to ensure that infectious diseases are not imported into Haiti
Washington, DC, February 4, 2011 (PAHO/WHO) – The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is urging all international travelers to Haiti to get up-to-date on their vaccines, to ensure they do not unknowingly import infectious diseases into Haiti.
The recommendation follows recent epidemiological investigations of two disease outbreaks in Haiti, one involving suspected polio and the other, suspected measles. The investigations were carried out by Haiti’s Ministry of Health with support from PAHO/WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The first investigation concerned four cases of paralysis in cholera patients in the coastal city of Port-de-Paix. Laboratory tests have ruled out polio as the cause of the illnesses. However, as a precaution, polio vaccine is now being included in vaccination campaigns against diphtheria and measles in the area. No cases of indigenous wild polio have been reported in Haiti since polio was declared eradicated from throughout the Americas in 1994.
The second investigation involved a case of measles in the 8-month-old child of a U.S. volunteer who traveled from her home in Pennsylvania to Haiti in late December. The baby developed measles after returning to the United States on Jan. 7, followed by two siblings who also developed the disease. Four of the family’s six children were unvaccinated.
Investigators identified a cluster of Haitian children who had also developed rashes and fever in the area where the relief worker and her child had visited. However, laboratory testing identified the source of those illnesses as chickenpox (varicella), not measles. The investigation found that no cases of measles had been seen or diagnosed in the area or anywhere else in Haiti.
Meanwhile, U.S. public health officials have determined that the Pennsylvania child was possibly exposed to measles in a U.S. airport en route to Haiti.
In Haiti, no cases of measles have been confirmed since 2001, and throughout the Americas, endemic measles has been considered eliminated since November 2002. Haiti has carried out measles vaccination campaigns in recent years with estimated coverage of between 80 percent and 94 percent. Most recently, authorities carried out two measles vaccine campaigns targeting children living in areas affected by the January 2010 earthquake. In their report on the measles investigation, epidemiologists called for a "follow-up" vaccination campaign in 2011 targeting children from 1 to 8 years old.
Infectious diseases including measles and polio can be carried and transmitted even by individuals who do not have symptoms themselves. Because of the risk of importing disease, PAHO strongly recommends that all individuals planning to go to Haiti make sure they have been vaccinated against measles, rubella, polio and other vaccine-preventable.