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Hundreds quarantined on cruise ship in St. Lucia because of measles infection

Merlene Fredericks-James, chief medical officer of St. Lucia's Ministry of Health and Wellness, said a cruise ship was quarantined due to reports of measles. (Video: St. Lucia Ministry of Health and Wellness)
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Health officials on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia have quarantined a cruise ship after discovering a case of measles on board, the country’s top doctor said Tuesday.

Authorities confirmed the case Tuesday morning, said Merlene Fredericks James, St. Lucia’s chief medical officer. The vessel was locked down later that day, an attempt to stymie any potential spread of the highly contagious disease that is sickening people in the United States at a record pace, fueled by anti-vaccination misinformation.

“No one was allowed to leave the ship,” Fredericks James said in a statement. “Because of the risk of potential infection, not just from the confirmed measles case but from other persons who may be on the boat at the time, we thought it prudent to make a decision not to allow anyone to disembark.”

The island has avoided an outbreak of the disease locally since 1990, the acting national epidemiologist, Michelle Francois, said in another statement. But as measles cases continue to surge in the United States and other areas with tourism ties to St. Lucia, residents have been bracing themselves, fearing the virus could find its way there aboard plane or boat.

Nearly 300 passengers are on the quarantined ship, and the confirmed case was found in a female crew member, NBC News reported.

U.S. officials say measles cases hit 25-year record high

Health officials did not identify the cruise ship, but a sergeant with the St. Lucia Coast Guard told NBC that the vessel is Freewinds, the 440-foot boat owned by the Church of Scientology.

Representatives of the Church of Scientology did not respond to requests for comment.

The ship-tracking website shows Freewinds — the only passenger ship it has on record by that name — docked at a St. Lucia port. Photographs of the vessel there appear to match those on the Church of Scientology’s website.

The organization calls the Freewinds “a very special place.” For a Scientologist, boarding the ship is “the most significant spiritual accomplishment of his lifetime and brings with it the full realization of his immortality.”

A video tour of the glitzy ship, posted to Scientology’s YouTube page in 2013, promises a “distraction-free environment for ministering the highest level of spiritual counseling available in the Scientology religion” — “auditing,” which involves a crude lie-detector device and the revealing of one’s deepest, most intimate secrets and fears.

In an interview with the website Beliefnet, Scientology leader John Carmichael said the organization has no official rules regarding vaccinations.

“Scientologists are pretty independent people, though I will say this: They tend to do a little more research, perhaps, on the effect of various medical procedures or whatever,” Carmichael said. “They make their own decisions, but those aren’t decisions that the church tries to influence in any way.”

However, the Hollywood Reporter has written that “a notable number of the highest-profile immunization dissenters are Scientologists” who have helped “inflame the vaccine wars.”

Hundreds of students and staff from two L.A. universities remain quarantined amid measles scare

As measles — and the fear of it — has spread, quarantines and scares have become increasingly common. Last week, hundreds of students, staff and faculty at two California universities were quarantined after officials learned they may have been exposed to the disease on campus.

The orders in St. Lucia and California, as well as other urgent public-health measures in New York and across the United States, come as the number of cases in the country has hit a 25-year high. More than 700 people have been infected this year — the highest number of cases since measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000.

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