National

Kansai airport begins vaccinating workers after measles outbreak

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Kansai International Airport began vaccinating its workers against measles Thursday following an outbreak that has so far infected 39 people, mostly younger airport employees who were never vaccinated against the disease.

The move comes just over three weeks after the first case was confirmed on Aug. 17, when a female employee in her 20s who handles international flights was diagnosed. Over the following weeks, the outbreak spread, mainly among Kansai airport workers.

As of Thursday, 33 workers had been confirmed as having caught the measles, along with two medical staff who treated them; 31 had recovered, airport officials said.

But with four passengers also infected, and another 10 people in Osaka Prefecture suspected as having caught the disease, concerns of a major outbreak in the region remain.

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui criticized Kansai airport for its failure to act faster.

“There were insufficient, unprofessional aspects to the airport’s response. In the event of an outbreak in places where large numbers of people pass through, I want authorities to avoid a panic by providing information and working to ensure the disease doesn’t spread,” Matsui told reporters in Osaka Wednesday.

The governor said many younger Kansai airport employees were never vaccinated against measles and advised those who were to get a booster dose.

A prefectural investigation of Kansai airport’s personnel showed nearly 900 employees under the age of 30 have either never had measles or never been vaccinated. About 15,000 people work at the airport.

Airport officials said that 300 employees, mostly in their 20s and 30s, would be vaccinated Thursday and Friday, and that the remaining 600 or so would be vaccinated when more vaccine was secured.

Notices in Japanese warning customers of the outbreak and urging them to seek medical treatment if they display any symptoms have begun to appear in the airport. Some local governments in the vicinity have also taken precautionary steps.

In Sakai, which lies between Kansai airport and Osaka city, officials are urging young children especially to get vaccinated, as are officials in Izumisano, which lies just across the bay from the island where Kansai airport is located.

Last month’s outbreak occurred at one of the busiest times of the year for the airport. During the peak Bon season from Aug. 10 to Aug. 21, an average 60,000 passengers flew in and out of the airport each day. The incubation period for measles is 10 to 12 days.

Kansai airport is offering English-language updates on its website. Travelers can go to jtim.es/6pNc3040zwe for the latest information.