Northern Virginia health officials are warning residents about possible measles exposure in six locations where Afghan migrants may have come in contact with them. According to local health authorities those locations are Dulles International Airport, Stone Springs Hospital Center, Inova L.J. Murphy Children’s Hospital, Inova Fairfax Hospital, Dulles Expo Center and the Crowne Plaza Dulles Airport.
As of September 15, measles cases had been confirmed in six children who traveled through Dulles Airport as part of Operation Allies Welcome (OAW), the U.S. federal government’s emergency evacuation of citizens of Afghanistan, according to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). They said there has been no community transmission thus far. It was noted that the migrants are also tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and if positive, sent to a location to isolate. VDH said they are also using contact tracing which is a standard part of public health response when cases of a contagious disease are identified.
Measles is a highly contagious illness that is spread through coughing, sneezing, and contact with droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of an infected individual. Measles symptoms usually appear in two stages. In the first stage, most people have a fever of greater than 101 degrees, runny nose, watery red eyes and a cough. The second stage begins around the third to seventh day when a rash begins to appear on the face and spreads over the entire body.
Those who have received both doses of the measles vaccine are protected and do not need to take further action, according to a VDH spokeswoman. Even those who have received only one dose are very likely to be protected and risk is low, she said.
People who have potentially been exposed are receiving preventative treatment as appropriate and public health guidance. “The Health Department is following up with non-federal staff at the facility to assess immunity, and apply preventive treatment,” said the spokeswoman. “All the individuals evacuating from Afghanistan receive medical screening and age-appropriate immunizations as part of an immigration exam. VDH is working in close collaboration and coordination with other state and federal agencies as well as local partners to coordinate appropriate public health measures.”
The Biden administration confirmed last week flights carrying refugees have been paused as a precaution.
Earlier this week, Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) co-authored a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and FEMA Senior Response Official Robert J. Fenton, Jr. calling for increased coordination and improved coordination with Virginia localities and institutions assisting the Afghan resettlement mission and to reiterate concerns their offices have fielded regarding resources and the level of support being provided by the federal government. “We remain concerned about the impacts that insufficient coordination and communication have had so far, especially related to healthcare operations in Northern Virginia,” they wrote.
“We are certainly seeing an increase in patient volume due to a number of factors, however we are here to serve the community and will adjust our workflow in order to ensure the full level of service that our community expects and deserves,” said an Inova spokesperson. “We are not restricting or pulling back services in any way, but continue to be very busy.” They recommended community members continue to wear a mask, wash their hands and implement other measures to prevent both COVID-10 and other respiratory illnesses.
Residents with additional questions about this measles investigation should contact their local health district; find contact information, here: www.vdh.virginia.gov/local-health-districts. For more information on measles, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/epidemiology-fact-sheets/measles-rubeola/.