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US adds measles to list of diseases requiring quarantine

Thirteen cases of measles were confirmed in the United States in 2020. Source: New Scientist

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden signed an executive order adding measles to a list of communicable diseases that could require quarantine after several Afghan refugees were diagnosed with the highly contagious disease after arriving in the United States.

The action makes measles one of the diseases for which federal health authorities have the authority to issue quarantine orders requiring people who have been diagnosed with measles or exposed to it to self-isolate to protect public health, a White House official said in a statement, without giving details on the nature or length of the quarantine.

“This action was taken at the request of public health officials, who cited the cases of measles among Afghans who recently arrived in the US as well as several previous outbreaks of measles in recent years,” the official told a news agency on condition of anonymity. 

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meaning it was no longer constantly present. Thirteen cases of measles were confirmed in the United States in 2020.

Flights carrying Afghan refugees to the United States were temporarily halted because of four cases of measles, the White House said last week.

“All arriving Afghans are required to get vaccinated for measles, as well as for diseases like polio and COVID-19, as a condition of remaining in the United States,” the official said. Afghans are being vaccinated at military bases overseas before they fly to the United States.

Afghans who were diagnosed with measles after arriving in the United States “have been housed separately in accordance with public health guidelines,” and CDC has been conducting contact tracing.

Measles can be dangerous, especially for babies and young children, and pneumonia is among the possible complications, according to the CDC.