• A confirmed measles case has been identified in an O'ahu resident
  • The resident just returned from international travel, as per Hawaii DOH
  • The agency has identified people who may have been exposed to the patient

Health authorities in Hawaii are investigating a case of measles in an international traveler. The patient has reportedly been unvaccinated.

The case was identified in an O'ahu resident who had returned from international travel, the State of Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) noted in a statement Monday.

So far, the agency has already identified those who may have been exposed to the patient and is working to prevent the spread of the illness. It has also issued a medical advisory so health care providers would be on the lookout for potential measles cases.

The patient has not been vaccinated against measles, according to the agency. It has not provided further information about the patient but noted the importance of staying updated on routine childhood vaccinations, which ended up getting disrupted because of the pandemic.

"The pandemic caused setbacks for childhood immunization programs worldwide," Dr. Sarah Kemble, state epidemiologist, said in the agency's news release. "As a result, we are seeing increases in outbreaks globally, and sometimes outbreaks in the United States as well. We are very fortunate to have a safe and highly effective vaccine against measles. This is a reminder to check your child's immunization status and make sure they are up-to-date on all recommended shots."

In the U.S., measles was declared to have been eliminated in 2000, but cases continue to be identified in the country. In 2019, for instance, even before the pandemic caused vaccination disruptions, the U.S. saw 1,300 measles cases in 31 states. This, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was the highest number of cases since 1992.

Cases in the U.S. tend to come from people who have traveled internationally. This is why it's important for Americans to make sure that they are vaccinated against measles before they leave "regardless of the destination."

"While Hawai'i has not experienced any recent outbreaks or spread of measles within the state, this case is a reminder that measles can be identified in Hawai'i when residents or travelers are exposed overseas and re-enter the state," the DOH noted.

Indeed, even though measles cases in the U.S. have dropped compared to the "pre-vaccine era," measles continues to be common in many developing countries.

"Even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available, in 2018, there were more than 140,000 measles deaths globally, mostly among children under the age of 5," the World Health Organization (WHO) noted. "The overwhelming majority (more than 95%) of measles deaths occur in countries with low per capita incomes and weak health infrastructures."

In the period from August 2022 to January 2023, countries like India, Yemen, Somalia and Ethiopia logged thousands of measles cases each. This year, the U.S. reported six measles cases from five jurisdictions as of March 30, 2023.

So far, there is still no specific treatment for measles, but the vaccine has been proven to be effective in saving lives. From 2000 to 2018, a whopping 23.2 million deaths were prevented by the measles vaccine.

"All eligible keiki should be vaccinated against measles," Dr. Kenneth Fink, director of health, said in the Hawaii DOH statement. The word "keiki" means "child" in Hawaiian.

"Prevention is easy," Fink added. "Don't miss an opportunity to protect your child against this serious disease."

Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii WPPilot/Creative Commons