RICHMOND, Va. – Five people who recently traveled to Virginia from Afghanistan have been diagnosed with measles, state health officials said Tuesday.
The cases are being reported four days after the U.S. halted in-bound flights of Afghan evacuees following the discovery of a few cases of measles among new arrivals.
The Virginia Department of Health said in a news release that the people were part of the U.S. government’s emergency evacuation efforts from Afghanistan, which recently came under Taliban rule.
Virginia health officials did not offer specifics Tuesday regarding where the people who are infected are located. But they said they’re working to identify and contact people who may have been exposed in three parts of the state.
Those places include Dulles International Airport, where some refugees flew into the U.S., and other parts of northern Virginia. Health officials are also working to notify people potentially exposed at an unidentified Richmond hospital. They’re also working to identify exposures at Fort Pickett, an Army National Guard base southwest of Richmond that is providing temporary housing to recently arrived evacuees.
Measles is a highly contagious disease that can be spread through coughing, sneezing and contact with droplets from the nose, mouth or throat. Most Americans are vaccinated against it as children.
Virginia is reporting its measles cases in the wake of the U.S. government halting U.S.-bound flights of Afghan evacuees Friday. The decision was made by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the halt stemmed from the discovery of measles among four Afghans who had arrived in the United States.
The development had American officials overseas Friday removing from planes Afghan families who already had struggled through a grueling, dangerous escape to safety after Kabul fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15. Afghans faced Taliban checkpoints and crushing crowds to enter the Kabul airport. A suicide attack at an airport gate killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. military members.
A government document viewed by The Associated Press said the halt would “severely impact” operations at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, one of the biggest transit sites. It also said U.S.-bound flights would stop from the U.S. al-Udeid base in Qatar.
Many thousands of Afghan evacuees airlifted out of Kabul are still en route to new homes in the United States. Some face relocation for further screening in Kosovo.