Tourists bring measles to Costa Rica

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Costa Rica’s health ministry has identified a family of European tourists as reintroducing measles to the country after a gap of more than 12 years with no recorded cases among the local population. David Ing reports

The family were reportedly French citizens who were opposed to having vaccinations, with the incident centering on their five-year-old boy.

The news of his illness came shortly after the World Health Organization (WHO) listed anti-vaccine supporters as being one of the major threats to global health for 2019.

According to the health ministry, the boy arrived in the country with his mother – who had also not been vaccinated – and his father on 18 February.

It was when they went to a private clinic to check out some spots that had erupted on the boy’s hands that blood tests were taken, and the illness diagnosed.

The parents acknowledged that there had been an outbreak of measles at the boy’s school in France just before they left.

The three were then isolated for treatment in a hospital in Puntarenas on the country’s Pacific coast as the authorities began checking on anyone with whom they may have made contact. These included primarily fellow passengers on the Air France flight out to Costa Rica and at the hotels where the family had been staying, the first night in the capital, San José, and later near Puntarenas.

The last time a local person in Costa Rica was reported having measles – which mainly affects younger children - was in 2006, according to the ministry, although there had been a case of another visitor to the country suffering from it in 2014.

“Our country enjoys a very good coverage of vaccinations in general,” said the ministry in a statement. “However, to avoid particular cases and possible complications it is important that the parents of minors ensure that children have all the vaccines.”

More than 7,000 cases of measles were registered in the Americas in 2018. Ironically it is from neighbouring countries to Costa Rica where the main threat was seen as coming from, not from one of their leading overseas tourist markets.