Cruise ship quarantined near St. Lucia after measles case reported

The Caribbean nation of St. Lucia has imposed a quarantine on a visiting cruise ship, barring any passengers or crew from leaving the boat while in port, after a case of measles was diagnosed on board, the island's chief medical officer said.

100 doses of vaccine have been provided to people on board vessel owned by Church of Scientology

A 134-metre ship owned and operated by the Church of Scientology, SMV Freewinds, is docked under quarantine because of a measles outbreak on board the vessel in port near Castries, St. Lucia. (Micah George/Reuters)

Health officials for the Caribbean island of St. Lucia have furnished 100 free doses of measles vaccine to a Church of Scientology cruise ship placed under quarantine in port after the highly contagious disease was diagnosed on board, the island's chief medical officer said on Thursday.

St. Lucia imposed a quarantine on the visiting cruise ship, barring any passengers or crew from leaving the boat while in port.

Dr. Merlene Frederick-James said in a video statement posted to YouTube on Tuesday that the St. Lucia ministry of health ordered the restriction after conferring with the Pan American Health Organization and others about the risk of exposure to islanders.

St. Lucia health officials confirmed one case of measles aboard the ship that has been docked in a port near the island nation's capital Castries since Tuesday, Frederick-James added.

"The confirmed case as well as other crew members are presently stable but remain under surveillance by the ship's doctor," Frederick-James said, noting the incubation period of measles is 10 to 12 days before symptoms appear.

A vial of the measles, mumps and rubella virus (MMR) vaccine. One-hundred free doses of the vaccine have been provided to the Church of Scientology cruise ship. (Lindsey Wasson/File Photo/Reuters)

She gave no information about the ship or its origins.

NBC News, citing a St. Lucia coast guard sergeant, reported the ship is named Freewinds, the name of a 134-metre-long vessel owned and operated by the Church of Scientology.

The international vessel-monitoring website also showed a Panamanian-flagged passenger ship identified as SMV Freewinds docked in port near the St. Lucia capital of Castries. The website indicated the ship was headed next to the island of Dominica.

Hundreds of passengers, crew on board

The Church of Scientology website describes the Tradewinds as a floating "religious retreat ministering the most advanced level of spiritual counselling in the Scientology religion." It says its home port is Curacao.

Church officials did not immediately respond to efforts by Reuters seeking comment.

NBC News reported nearly 300 passengers and crew were aboard the vessel, with one female crew member diagnosed with measles.

The cruise ship quarantine comes as the number of measles cases in the United States has reached a 25-year peak with more than 700 people diagnosed as of this week, part of an international resurgence in the disease.

Public health officials blame declining vaccination rates in some communities driven by misinformation about inoculation that has left those populations vulnerable to the rapid spread of infection among those with no immunity to the virus.

Health authorities in Los Angeles last month ordered quarantines on two university campuses after each one had reported at least one confirmed case.

The vast majority of U.S. cases have occurred in children who have not received the three-way vaccines against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), which confers immunity to the disease, officials said.

Measles is spread through casual contact with the virus, which can remain infectious in the air of an enclosed space for up to two hours after it is breathed out by someone carrying the disease.

The rate of transmission from an infected person to another person nearby who lacks immunity is about 90 per cent, and an infected person can be contagious for four days before showing signs of the disease.


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