The World Health Organization (WHO) is on alert due to the reported regional spread of measles from Venezuela, where a major outbreak is underway, throughout the Americas. The region had been declared measles-free in 2016 but the disease has made a resurgence in Venezuela (notably the state of Bolívar), where the medical infrastructure has been severely degraded due to an ongoing politico-economic crisis. There are fears that the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees fleeing their country, notably towards neighboring Colombia and Brazil, will intensify the spread of the disease.
Since the beginning of the year (as of March 20), cases have been confirmed in nine counties: Brazil, the US, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Antigua and Barbuda, Colombia, and Guatemala. The WHO is calling on these and other countries to fortify vaccination efforts.
According to humanitarian officials, an estimated 500,000 Venezuelans have fled the country since the beginning of the year, with a large percentage taking refuge in Colombia and Brazil. The migrant crisis is expected to worsen throughout 2018 as Venezuela's economy continues to falter.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that typically affects mostly children. It is transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth, or throat of infected persons. Symptoms of measles are usually a high fever, which begins approximately ten to 12 days after exposure to the virus and lasts four to seven days. A runny nose, a cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks can develop in the initial stage. After several days, a rash erupts, usually on the face and upper neck. Over the course of about three days, the rash spreads, eventually reaching the hands and feet. The rash lasts for five to six days and then fades. On average, the rash occurs 14 days after exposure to the virus (within a range of seven to 18 days). A vaccine is available.
Potentially affected individuals are advised to ensure their measles vaccination is up to date (including booster shots) and to contact their doctor with any questions or concerns. Anyone experiencing the above symptoms is urged to seek immediate medical attention.
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