An Israeli flight attendant died on Tuesday after contracting measles and falling into a coma, Israeli health officials confirmed, the latest incident amid growing measles outbreaks in countries around the world.
There were more reported cases of the virus in the first half of 2019 than in any other year since 2006, the World Health Organization announced Monday. Compared with this time last year, there have already been nearly three times as many reported cases of measles. While many of the measles outbreaks occurred in places with low vaccination rates, the WHO said, others are occurring in nations that have high rates, resulting from “lack of access to quality healthcare or vaccination services, conflict and displacement, misinformation about vaccines, or low awareness about the need to vaccinate.”
“The United States has reported its highest measles case count in 25 years,” the WHO said in the announcement.
The woman, a mother of three, was just the third measles fatality in Israel in the past 15 years, according to the Times of Israel: In 2018, an 18-month-old child and an 82-year-old woman also died of the virus.
In a statement to the Jewish Press, the airline, El Al, said “the company is bowing its head over the death of a member of El Al’s aircrew. The company will continue to act on the matter in accordance with the health ministry’s guidelines. Once the case became known, the company acted to vaccinate the company’s aircrews. The company shares the deep grief of the family and will continue to accompany the family.”
The Post previously reported that the 43-year-old flight attendant had been flying on an El Al flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Israel in late March and was later admitted to the hospital after developing encephalitis, a complication of the illness in which the brain swells.
In early April, the Israeli Ministry of Health issued a warning that a flight from JFK into Israel on March 26 had a measles patient on board, though it is not known whether the flight attendant contracted the virus while on the flight.
“There were no specific reports in Israel of persons who were on the same flight and developed measles,” Eyal Basson, a spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Health said over email.
In April, The Post reported that the woman had been in a coma and public-health experts were unable to speak with her to verify her vaccine record. They were able to get in touch with her mother, who told officials that her daughter had received the required vaccines in childhood.
However, at the time, likely in the 1970s, the vaccine would have been a single dose, while Israel now recommends that children receive one dose at 12 months old and another during first grade.
The Israeli Ministry of Health considers people born between 1957 and 1977 as not immune or “partially immune” to measles and recommends those traveling abroad to receive the necessary doses to protect against the virus.
Both New York City and Israel have been fighting outbreaks of the virus amid anti-vaccine campaigns and misinformation.
In Israel, instances of the virus have continued to show up primarily in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, the Times of Israel reported.
The Post’s Lena H. Sun reported earlier in August that New York health officials were working to suppress the outbreak:
New York City’s outbreak began in October. By this spring, about 400 of the health department’s 6,500 employees were working on the measles emergency. More than 31,000 doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine have been given to individuals in the heart of the outbreak. Since September, at least 642 cases have been reported.
Lena H. Sun
According to the WHO, “measles is almost entirely preventable with two doses of measles vaccine, a safe and highly effective vaccine."