An unvaccinated 5-year-old boy from France is suspected of reintroducing measles back to Costa Rica, which has been free of the infectious disease for five years.
The boy arrived with his parents on Feb. 18 for a vacation in the country. The child’s mother, who was not also vaccinated, confirmed that other children attending the child’s school in France have also been diagnosed with measles.
The boy is now in quarantine at the Monsenor Sanabria Hospital in Puntarenas. His parents are also reportedly isolated.
In a statement, Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health said officials are searching for people the child may have come into contact with before he was placed in isolation. These include passengers who arrived in the country on the same Air France flight the boy’s family boarded on.
According to the health ministry, the last time one of the country’s citizens had measles was in 2006. Prior to the arrival of the French boy, the last case of measles imported to Costa Rica had been in 2014.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that spreads through coughing and sneezing. The disease can be serious and even deadly for small children.
Measles can be prevented with a vaccine and vaccination. It was once common but cases fell as children get vaccinated. Despite the availability of vaccines, figures from the World Health Organization show 110,000 people died because of the disease in 2017. Most of the fatalities were children below 5 years old.
“Measles outbreaks can result in epidemics that cause many deaths, especially among young, malnourished children. In countries where measles has been largely eliminated, cases imported from other countries remain an important source of infection,” WHO said.
Symptoms of the disease include nasal congestion, conjunctivitis fever, a rash that starts in the head and expands throughout the body.
“It is so contagious that if one person has it, 90% of the people around him or her will also become infected if they are not protected,” the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned.