The woman, identified as 43-year-old Rotem Amitai, fell into a coma shortly after a March 26 El Al airlines flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Tel Aviv. She had developed encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, a severe complication of measles.
It was unclear if she contracted the virus on the flight, in New York or in Tel Aviv. Both the U.S. and Israel are currently experiencing major measles outbreaks.
“Rotem was a wonderful woman and a devoted mother,” her family said in a statement, according to NBC. “We are grieving and hurting from her premature passing.”
In a statement to the Jewish Press, El Al said it was “bowing its head” over the death of the mother of three.
“The company will continue to act on the matter in accordance with the health ministry’s guidelines,” El Al said. “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.”
Israel’s Ministry of Health reported in April that 2 million Israelis are either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated with one dose of the measles instead of the recommended two doses.
Amitai’s blood tests showed she had likely received only one dose of the vaccine, The Times of Israel reported.
According to the Times, Amitai is just the third person in Israel to die from measles in the last 15 years. A 10-year-old boy is currently in a coma in another part of Israel after contracting measles, the outlet reported.
Measles outbreaks have engulfed Israel and parts of the U.S. recently. Israeli health officials recorded 4,292 cases of the highly contagious disease between July 2018 and July 2019.
As of early August, there had been 1,182 confirmed cases of measles in the U.S. so far this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A measles outbreak in New York City forced health officials to declare a public health emergency earlier this year and order mandatory vaccinations in parts of the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn that had low vaccination rates.
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