When a smart young computer programmer flew in to Boston from India, on April 26, brought over for his expertise by a financial services company headquartered in the 18th floor of the John Hancock Tower, little did Boston realize that a potential measles outbreak loomed before them.
On May 5 the characteristic symptoms of measles such as rash, fever, cough began to appear. Following this measles struck another half-dozen workers at Investors Bank & Trust, five on the same floor and four other additional cases as well whose link to the programmer has not yet been confirmed
Boston state authorities has distributed or ordered 23,000 doses of measles vaccine worth nearly $400,000. Several hundred people at three workplaces have been ordered to stay back home until they prove that they aren't susceptible or until the incubation period has passed. Medical records have been scoured, air-flow patterns examined in offices and dozens of interviews conducted to understand and stop the outbreak.
Disease specialists have called attention to the fact that with the globalization of goods and services incubating diseases has also undertaken a global trot.
According to Dr. Gerald T. Keusch, a global health specialist at the Boston University School of Public Health, 'We can no longer think about putting up quarantines at the borders and expect that it's going to work for infectious disease any better than it works for the resourceful, determined people who come across as economic migrants. We can't put up a shield.'
Boston disease trackers have found that eight of these 10 patients range in age from their early 30s to their late 40s. Adults born before 1957 are believed to be universally immune to measles because so many children during that period were exposed to the virus and thereby developed natural and permanent protection. People under 30 grew up when vaccination was widespread and reliable.
When the measles vaccine was introduced in the 1960s infants were often made to receive vaccination at 4-6 months of age. However doctors realized that babies at such a young age have lots of disease fighting cells from their mothers, which often neutralized the vaccine.
Still some other doctors recommended a shot of another substance to reduce the side effects of the early vaccine. However this was later found to also decrease the effectiveness of the vaccine. This has resulted in some vulnerable Americans in their early 30s to late 40s.
'When you combine all of that, you get a small percentage of people who have remained not adequately vaccinated,' said Dr. Adolf Karchmer, infectious disease doctor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Dr Karchmer who had helped run measles vaccine campaigns for the federal government in the 1960s also added, 'Because measles has been so well controlled, you don't find out about those people, until you have what's happening in downtown Boston'.
The disease investigators did not find any records indicating that the computer programmer had been vaccinated against measles. World Health Organization studies indicate that in 2004, only 56 percent of infants in India had received measles vaccination compared to the 93 percent of US children.
United States has also not made it mandatory that workers on temporary work assignments prove they are vaccinated against diseases, federal officials said.
'The solution to vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States is very often improving global vaccine coverage,' said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 'There are still millions of children and adults around the world who are not protected against measles.'