Dr. Marc Siegel: Measles quarantine on a cruise ship – what are challenges for passengers?

Thanks to a Church of Scientology cruise ship quarantined this week by the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, people around the world are wondering how it might feel to be among 300 passengers and crew stranded on a ship with someone who has measles.

The answer depends entirely on whether you and the others on board have been vaccinated. Those who are fully immunized are safe, and those who are unvaccinated are at high risk of getting sick even if they only enter the same room where someone with measles has recently been present. This type of casual contact is particularly difficult to avoid in the tight confines of a cruise ship.

St. Lucia's Ministry of Health is sending 100 doses of the measles vaccine to the Church of Scientology ship. The problem is that it can take two weeks or more for the vaccine to work.

CRUISE SHIP QUARANTINED IN ST. LUCIA OVER CONFIRMED MEASLES CASE

So what can people do?

As I wrote in my book, "False Alarm: The Truth about the Epidemic of Fear," people who are afraid in such a situation take fewer precautions. Those who stay calm are at a lower risk of getting infected. So while trying to decrease public contact and avoid areas of the ship where the measles patient (a crew member) was or is, it also makes sense to divert yourself with other activities such as watching movies or reading books.

This is not the right time to worry about the complications of the measles, but rather to reassure yourself that for the majority of people who get it, the recovery is uneventful.

For this cruise ship, it is reasonable for people who can document up-to-date immunization against measles to be allowed to disembark in the U.S. and go home.

Since measles is a respiratory virus, it also makes sense to wash hands frequently and to wear a mask in all public places. If you aren’t sure about your vaccine status, take a vaccine if it is offered just to be sure. There is no downside. The vaccine is completely safe for all who aren’t immunocompromised or pregnant.

If you have a balcony, use it. Gaze out at the water and see the beauty there and think about other things other than measles. Exercise if there is a workout area that is free of contamination. Use disinfectants just to make sure. Stay well hydrated. Keep reminding yourself that the period of quarantine (probably 10 to 12 days), is limited, and it isn’t there to restrict your freedom but as a precaution to make sure that measles doesn’t leave the ship.

If the period of quarantine goes on, and few cases appear, the chances that you will get measles diminishes and you can find reassurance in this fact.

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Remember, fear is more contagious than any virus, including even measles. The bright red spots of measles may alarm you, but they soon fade. Far more worrisome than the measles case on your ship or even the 700 cases in the U.S. this year are the more than 100,000 deaths, mostly of children, from measles around the world every year. Your experience on this cruise ship can help you turn into a crusader on behalf of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

There are reports that the ship is scheduled to leave St. Lucia soon, but where will it go from there? This is hardly a scene from the great novel "Love in the Time of Cholera," where no port would allow the protagonists to dock because of a supposed cholera outbreak onboard. For this cruise ship, it is reasonable for people who can document up-to-date immunization against measles to be allowed to disembark in the U.S. and go home.

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