A total of seven Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy in western Wisconsin have been infected with measles, but all have since recovered, a spokesperson said Wednesday.
Fort McCoy officials had previously confirmed only one measles case. That person arrived at the base Sept. 4, was immediately isolated and tested positive for measles Sept. 5. Those at risk of exposure were quarantined.
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory system that is spread by breathing contaminated air or touching contaminated surfaces. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus is so contagious that up to 90% of people close to an infected person who are not immune will also catch it.
The U.S. halted incoming flights of refugees Sept. 10 after discovering a few cases of measles among the refugees, including the case at Fort McCoy.
Fort McCoy spokesperson Cheryl Phillips did not say when the other six Afghan refugees tested positive for measles but said the base no longer has any active cases. She said all of those who tested positive remained in isolation until they were fully recovered.
“Given that Afghan guests are residing on the Fort McCoy military installation, there is minimal potential for exposure to the neighboring community,” Phillips said.
The update comes as Fort McCoy announced Wednesday that more than 97% of Afghan refugees at the base have now received vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella, as well as for chickenpox.
Vaccines for COVID-19 and polio were also offered, Phillips said. Fort McCoy did not say what percentage of Afghans at the base have received those vaccines.
All Afghans and U.S. residents coming from Afghanistan are tested for COVID when they arrive in the U.S. and have the option to get a COVID-19 vaccine either at the airport when they arrive or at Department of Defense facilities, such as Fort McCoy.
As of last week, 12,500 Afghans were staying at the base.
Over the last several days, Fort McCoy personnel conducted a mass vaccination campaign to ensure Afghans are protected against contagious diseases, Phillips said. The effort started Thursday and concluded Tuesday.
“I’m proud of the entire Fort McCoy team that has come together to protect our Afghan guests and the public at large,” said Maj. Gen. Darrell Guthrie, senior Defense Department mission commander for Task Force McCoy, the team that has been caring for the refugees. “Young and old, our guests have been very supportive of this effort.”
Fort McCoy is one of eight military bases housing refugees who fled from Afghanistan after the recent collapse of the country’s government to the Taliban. The U.S. is providing temporary housing and other support for at least 50,000 Afghan evacuees.
Skye Justice, team lead at the U.S. Department of State for the Fort McCoy operation, said in a statement that more than 200 organizations are working with communities across the country to resettle the evacuees.
“After completing the immigration process, which includes these vaccinations, Afghan guests at Fort McCoy will be resettled in communities across the country,” Justice said.