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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/Reuters
Measles loved a contained space with lots of potential hosts breathing the same air.
VIRUSES AT SEA

A Scientology cruise ship stricken with measles case is now quarantined off St. Lucia

By Zoë Schlanger

Cruise ships are great places to rapidly infiltrate new hosts, if you’re a virus. So many people sharing the same airspace, with nowhere to go.

A reported 300 people are currently under quarantine on a cruise ship owned by the Church of Scientology after a crewmember contracted measles aboard the ship, which is docked in the port of the Caribbean island St. Lucia, according to NBC News. The crewmember is in stable condition and is isolated on the ship, under the care of the ship’s doctor, according to the chief medical officer of St. Lucia, who also said in a statement that it is “likely that other persons on the boat may have been exposed.”

Neither crewmembers nor passengers of the ship have been allowed to disembark as of this morning (May 2).

More than 700 cases of measles have been reported in the US this year in what is the biggest outbreak of the disease in the country since 1994. Many of the cases are concentrated among communities where vaccination rates against measles are low. Measles rates are surging in other countries as well.

The Church of Scientology maintains that it makes no recommendations to its followers about whether or not to immunize themselves or their children. But as the New York Times points out, John Carmichael, president of the Church of Scientology in New York, told the Beliefnet website in 2006 that followers of Scientology “tend to do a little more research, perhaps, on the effect of various medical procedures or whatever.”

The 440 ft cruise ship in question is called The Freewinds, and is described on the Church of Scientology’s website as the location of “a religious retreat ministering the most advanced level of spiritual counseling in the Scientology religion” and a “distraction-free environment” where a Scientologist can “devote himself entirely to his religious practice.”

In 2011, a woman told reporters she was held captive on the The Freewinds for years after signing a contract at age 14 that bound her to the church’s “Elite Sea Organization” for “a billion years.” The woman, Valeska Paris, said she spent 12 years on the ship. The church denies her claims.

Measles cases aboard cruise ships are rare, but at least three have occurred in the last four years, with two in 2014 and one in 2018, as cruise industry blog Cruise Law News points out.

Major cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival don’t have any vaccine requirements for boarding their ships, despite cruises being prime places to spread airborne diseases like measles. The US Centers for Disease Control recommends everyone who boards a cruise ship be up to date on their vaccines, including the one for measles, mumps, and rubella.