'Rotem was a wonderful person and a dedicated mother'

El Al flight attendant dies 4 months after contracting measles on plane from NY

43-year-old Rotem Amitai, who had been vaccinated with 1 dose out of the recommended 2, becomes 3rd fatality in recent outbreak of highly contagious disease

An undated photo showing Rotem Amitai. (Courtesy)
An undated photo showing Rotem Amitai. (Courtesy)

An Israeli flight attendant who was hospitalized in April after catching measles on a plane has died, becoming the third fatality in an outbreak of the highly contagious disease.

The El Al flight attendant, named Tuesday as Rotem Amitai, 43, had contracted measles on a flight from New York in late March.

Her condition deteriorated later that month and she was moved to an isolated intensive care unit, after slipping into a coma and suffering brain damage.

She was diagnosed with meningoencephalitis — a complication of the measles virus that is similar to having both meningitis and encephalitis, respectively infections or inflammations of the lining of the brain and the brain itself.

Illustrative photo of an El Al plane taking off from Ben Gurion Airport, August 5, 2013. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Amitai, a mother of three, was working on board El AL flight 002 from John F. Kennedy Airport to Tel Aviv on March 26.

“Rotem was a wonderful person and a dedicated mother,” a statement from her family said.

Blood tests revealed that she had been vaccinated with only one shot against measles instead of the two inoculations recommended for her age group. Consequently, El Al instructed all flight attendants at the time to get measles shots.

A 10-year-old boy is in a coma at Schneider Medical Center in Petah Tikva with suspected brain damage and is attached to a ventilator, after similarly contracting measles.

In November, an 18-month-old toddler in Jerusalem died of the disease, the first recorded death from measles in Israel in the past 15 years. A month later, an 82-year-old woman became the second fatality.

A nurse prepares the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine at the Rockland County Health Department in Haverstraw, Rockland County, New York, on April 5, 2019. (Johannes Eisele/AFP

Israel has seen an outbreak of measles in the past year, recording 4,292 cases between July 2018 and July 2019, according to the ministry.

Infections have mostly centered on the country’s ultra-Orthodox community, where inoculation rates have generally been lower than the rest of the population.

In New York, too, officials are struggling to contain a swelling number of measles cases centered in ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods while battling lawsuits over their efforts to require vaccinations.

The measles cases in Rockland and in Brooklyn have been traced to unvaccinated members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community who traveled to Israel. Orthodox Jewish leaders say a small faction of vaccine opponents in the community have allowed the disease to spread.

AP contributed to this report.

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