(Reuters) – A Church of Scientology cruise ship quarantined by the Caribbean nation of St. Lucia for measles will arrive Saturday in its home port on the island of Curaçao, where they will face similar restrictions, a senior official sanitary there said.
A 440-foot ship, owned and operated by the Church of Scientology, SMV Freewinds, is docked under a measles epidemic in the harbor near Castries, St. Lucia, on May 2, 2019. REUTERS / Micah George
A team of health officials in Curaçao plans to board the ship to determine who on board may have been exposed to a member of the crew diagnosed with measles and who was previously vaccinated against the highly contagious disease, has said the official.
The dott. Izzy Gerstenbluth, chief epidemiologist of the Curacao Biomedical and Health Research Institute, said that passengers and crew who can prove they have already been vaccinated or have had measles in the past would probably be free to land "and do their business".
Others would probably be forced to leave the ship for the duration of the incubation period – the time during which they could potentially transmit the disease to others, he told Reuters by telephone.
"What we don't want is for the disease to spread further," Gerstenbluth said. "There is no other way to … by not allowing anyone to be infected by the ship."
The incubation can last up to 21 days after exposure, with the most contagious infected individuals four days before the start of measles rash – while the person is experiencing cold-like symptoms – to four days after the rash appears.
Gerstenbluth said the infected crew member went to Europe and rejoined the ship on April 17th, then felt ill on April 22nd. She remained on the ship after a blood sample taken a few days later turned positive for measles when the ship was already en route to St. Lucia.
The health authorities have placed the ship in quarantine after arriving in Sweden on April 30, unless no one could disembark. It was reported that Saint Lucia also provided 100 doses of measles vaccine to the ship before she left Thursday for Curacao.
A total of 318 passengers and crew members are believed to be aboard the ship, a Panamanian-flagged cruise ship identified by maritime navigation records as SMV Freewinds, the name of the 440-foot ship owned and operated by the Church of Scientology.
The church, on its website, describes Freewinds as a floating "religious retreat" that plays the most advanced level of spiritual counseling in the Scientology religion. "
He says the boat is based in Curacao, an island that once was part of the Netherlands Antilles north of Venezuela and is now an autonomous country in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Scientology officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Although the measles-infected crew member has allegedly limited himself to his cabin after the diagnosis, the relatively limited interior of a cruise ship and the highly communicable nature of the virus – he can linger in an enclosed space for two hours – increases the risk of exposure to others who lack immunity, said Gerstenbluth.
Quarantine comes in the midst of a worldwide measles renaissance blamed by public health officials at declining rates of inoculation in some populations due to disinformation about vaccine safety.
The number of measles cases in the United States alone in recent months has risen to more than 700 this week, a peak of 25 years. Los Angeles health authorities last month ordered two university campuses to be quarantined after each reported at least one confirmed case.
Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore
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