Authorities on St. Lucia say they quarantined a ship owned by the Church of Scientology after a case of measles aboard. This comes as the world sees a resurgence of the sometimes deadly disease.
A cruise ship used as a "religious retreat" by the Church of Scientology has left the eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia following a period of quarantine after a crew member was found to be infected with measles, health and marine authorities said on Thursday.
"Given the highly infectious nature of measles, along with the possibility that other persons on board the vessel may have been in contact with and are now possibly infectious due to this disease, a decision was made not to allow persons to disembark," said Merlene Fredericks-James, the chief medical officer on the island.
The move to quarantine the ship came amid an international resurgence of the highly contagious disease that experts attribute to the growing anti-vaccine movement in richer nations. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified misinformation depicting vaccines as harmful as being a major global health threat.
Fredericks-James said the ship had requested 100 doses of measles vaccine.
It remained unclear, however, whether the Scientology adherents on the ship would accept being given the vaccinations. Followers of the religion consider illness a sign of personal weakness and often refuse medical interventions, even though the church itself does not directly oppose them.
Fredericks-James said the female crew member infected with the disease was stable, but would remain under surveillance by the ship's doctor along with other crew members.
The ship, the Freewinds, was later reported by the ship-tracking website marinetraffic.com to be sailing for its home port in Curacao.
Religion, or not?
The Freewinds is described by the Church of Scientology as a "religious retreat ministering the most advanced level of spiritual counseling in the Scientology religion."
The church, founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1953, stipulates various levels of spiritual awareness that can be attained by its members, each level becoming more expensive for the person who has attained it. Scientology is recognized as a religion in several countries around the world, but others have refused it religious status, classing it instead as a commercial undertaking, a fraudulent organization or even as a dangerous cult.
Among its more notable members are the actors Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Priscilla Presley.
Read more: Scientology is still a red flag in Germany
Potentially deadly disease
Measles, whose symptoms include runny nose, fever and a rash of red spots, can lead to pneumonia, brain swelling and even death, though most people recover.
There were four times as many measles cases in the first quarter of this year as in the corresponding period in 2018, with the USA, where the disease was declared as eradicated in 2000, reaching a 25-year peak of 700 cases.
As infection with measles confers lifelong immunity, the disease can only thrive in a community if unvaccinated children continue to spread it. The current resurgence is likely due to the fact that an estimated 169 million children missed out on the vital first doses of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017, according to a UNICEF report issued last month.
In poorer countries, unavailability of vaccinations plays a major role, while in more prosperous nations many parents have been convinced not to have their children vaccinated on the basis of misinformation largely spread via social media.
tj/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)