With thousands of young people from around the world expected at an event in West Virginia this summer, state health officials and Boy Scout leaders say they’re preparing for the possibility of children bringing measles with them.
About 45,000 Scouts and adult leaders from the United States and abroad are expected to attend the World Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Fayette County from July 22 through Aug. 2.
The event approaches as outbreaks of highly-contagious measles are growing in several U.S. states and elsewhere.
As of May 10, 839 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 23 states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s the greatest number of cases in the United States since 1994 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000, according to the CDC.
While West Virginia hasn’t had a confirmed case of measles since 2009, health officials are encouraging Jamboree attendees to be vaccinated. Scout leaders say in the event of an outbreak, they have plans to quarantine affected patients in order to protect the larger Scout population.
Officials from the Bureau for Public Health are encouraging Scouts who come to West Virginia for the event to be immunized against the disease.
“Mass gatherings, like the World Scout Jamboree, create an environment that increases the risk for infectious disease occurrence and transmission due to overcrowded conditions, limited hand hygiene facilities and compromised personal hygiene practices,” state health officer Dr. Cathy Slemp wrote in a May 7 letter to Dr. John Lea, medical director for the Jamboree.
She went on to write that measles is so contagious that when one person gets it, up to 90 percent of people in close contact with that person who are not immune will also become infected. For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it, Slemp wrote.
One in 1,000 people with measles will get brain swelling, which could lead to brain damage, according to the CDC.
“The good news is that measles can be prevented with a safe, effected and inexpensive vaccine,” Slemp wrote.
All attendees should have received two doses of the measles vaccine or have otherwise met requirements for presumptive immunity before the Jamboree, Slemp wrote.
The only exception to the vaccine requirement should be those who medically cannot be vaccinated according to recommendations from the CDC, Slemp wrote.
Scott Scheffler, a spokesman for the World Scout Jamboree, wrote in an email that Scout officials are working with participating contingent leaders to provide guidance on medical matters like vaccinations for measles.
They have shared the state’s recommendations for measles vaccines and are working closely with the Bureau for Public Health, Scheffler said.
Scheffler said in addition to being screened by Customs and Border agents at entry points to the U.S., participants will be screened by Jamboree health officials with the help of local health department staffs as they enter the Summit Bechtel Reserve.
“In the event of an outbreak of any kind, the World Scout Jamboree has plans in place to quarantine patients impacted in order to protect the larger population of participants,” he said. “If any arriving participant shows signs of being sick, they will be examined by a Jamboree doctor before being admitted to the event.”
Scheffler said the Jamboree has more than 800 medical staff, including doctors, physician assistants, nurses, EMTs and medics. Scout leaders have worked with local and regional hospitals and the West Virginia National Guard to plan for and make outside resources available to participants, he said.
“Again, we take the matters of health and safety of our participants very seriously,” Scheffler wrote. “We are thankful for the excellent collaboration, preparedness work and the ongoing relationship we have with the local and state health officials in West Virginia and with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with whom we have also consulted on a regular basis.”