Scientology cruise ship quarantined in St. Lucia after crew member contracts measles while carrying 300 passengers sets sail after health officials dish out vaccines to those on board
- Freewinds confined to a St Lucia port Monday after case of measles confirmed
- Health officials said on Wednesday that a female crew member has the disease
- Woman was in isolation on board and passengers and crew could not disembark
- It has set sail for Curacao, which is where the 400-foot vessel is normally based
A cruise ship quarantined for a reported case of measles has left the Caribbean island of St Lucia after health officials provided 100 vaccines.
The Church of Scientology boat was confined in port this week by island health officials after the highly contagious disease was detected among the vessel’s 300 passengers.
But SMV Freewinds left St Lucia at 11.18pm local time on Thursday and online ship traffic data showed it was headed for the island of Curacao.
Health officials docked the SMV Freewinds cruise ship (pictured) on Monday after discovering a female crew member had measles. The vessel was in quarantine in St Lucia’s port until Thursday
A case of measles had been confirmed on the ship, docked in port near the capital of Castries since Tuesday, St Lucia’s chief medical officer Dr Merlene Frederick-James said.
The ship asked for 100 doses of measles vaccine, which St Lucia authorities provided for free.
‘The confirmed case – as well as other crew members – are said to be stable but remain under surveillance by the ship’s doctor,’ Dr Frederick-James said.
‘Given the highly infectious nature of measles, along with the possibility that other persons onboard the vessel may have been in contact with and are now possibly infectious due to this disease, a decision was made not to allow persons to disembark.’
She added that the infected patient was a female crew member and that the ship was the Freewinds – a 440-foot vessel the Church of Scientology says is used for religious retreats and is normally based in Curacao.
The 440-foot ship, owned and operated by the Church of Scientology, left St Lucia late on Thursday for Curacao – where it is normally based
Other crew members and passengers were not allowed to disembark.
St Lucian officials had been working with the Pan American Health Organization and Caribbean Public Health Agency.
Dr Fredericks-James said it is ‘likely that other persons on the boat may have been exposed’, but no other cases have been confirmed.
Measles cases have been on the rise worldwide, with the US facing a 25-year peak of more than 700 diagnosed as of this week.
St Lucian officials had been working with the Pan American Health Organization and Caribbean Public Health Agency to tackle the outbreak
The virus is highly contagious and can cause blindness, deafness, brain damage or death.
Freewinds, a Panamanian-flagged cruise liner, had been docked in port near Castries on Thursday but is expected to arrive at Willemstad, Curacao, at 6am local time on Saturday.
On its website, the Church of Scientology describes the Freewinds as a floating ‘religious retreat ministering the most advanced level of spiritual counseling in the Scientology religion.’
The island’s Chief Medical Officer Merlene Fredericks-James said it is ‘likely that other persons on the boat may have been exposed’, but no other cases have been confirmed
The church, founded by science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard in 1953, did not reply to requests for comment.
Its teachings do not directly oppose vaccination but followers consider illness a sign of personal failing and generally shun medical interventions.
Tony Ortega, who runs a blog about the group, claimed: ‘When a Scientologist gets a cold, they would be asked to write an essay about who they think that is against the church that is making them sick.
‘They would definitely be interrogating that person and they would punish that person because when you’re sick like that, in Scientology, it’s always your own fault.’
The Church of Scientology has various levels its members can attain that become more expensive as they progress.
According to Ortega, the Freewinds was launched by the church in 1988 for the highest level members can reach, known as ‘OT VIII’ or ‘Operating Thetan Level 8.
Public health officials have said declining vaccination rates in some communities has left some populations vulnerable to rapid spread of infection.
As much as 95 per cent of a population needs to be vaccinated to provide ‘herd immunity,’ a form of indirect protection that prevents infection in people too young or sick to be vaccinated, according to the World Health Organization.
The measles virus is highly contagious and can cause blindness, deafness, brain damage or death. It is currently spreading in outbreaks in many parts of the world
The vast majority of US cases have occurred in children who have not received vaccines against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).
For those traveling to outbreak areas abroad, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults consider getting another dose of MMR, take a blood test showing immunity, unless they were born before 1957.
The CDC says two doses of the measles vaccine should provide 97 percent protection and one dose should offer 93 per cent protection. But it added that immunity can wane over time.
This has occurred even in adults with two documented doses of the vaccine, said Dr Michael Phillips, chief epidemiologist at NYU Langone Health, which serves parts of New York City – a hot spot in the current US outbreak.
He said in children ‘the vaccine is really effective’ but in some adults memory T-cells, which recognize and attack germs no longer fight the virus as effectively.
Rapid blood tests are available that can detect whether a person is immune based on the level of measles antibodies, but the tests are not 100 per cent reliable.
Adults who have any doubt about their immunity should get another dose, Schaffner said: ‘It’s safe. There’s no downside risk. Just roll up your sleeve.’
Measles continues to spread across the United States, with more than 700 cases reported so far this year in 22 states.
US health officials on Monday updated the national tally. It has already eclipsed the total for any full year since 1994, when 963 cases were reported.
The CDC says this year’s count includes 44 people who caught the disease while traveling in another country.
Some of them triggered US outbreaks, mostly among non-vaccinated people.
That includes the largest outbreaks, in Orthodox Jewish communities in and around New York City.
Three-quarters of those who caught the disease are children or teenagers.
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