Rotem Amitai was working on an El Al flight in late March when she contracted the infectious disease and was hospitalized

By Joelle Goldstein
August 13, 2019 07:08 PM
Rotem Amitai
COURTESY OF AMITAI FAMILY)

A flight attendant who contracted measles sadly died this week following a five-month battle with the infectious disease.

Rotem Amitai, a 43-year-old employee for El Al Airlines, passed away on Tuesday after contracting measles at the end of March and falling into a “deep” coma, The Washington Post reports.

Amitai was flying from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Israel around the time she began to show symptoms of the virus.

She was later hospitalized after developing encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain caused by the disease, according to the outlet.

Days after landing in Israel, the Israeli Ministry of Health released an alert about a measles patient on board an El Al flight from JFK into Israel on March 26 to 27, but did not mention specifically whether Amitai was exposed to the illness while on the aircraft.

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At the time, officials also could not confirm where or when she may have contracted the virus, but noted that Amitai did not appear to spread measles to anyone else on the flight, according to a report from The Washington Post in April.

Medical professionals were unable to speak with Amitai after she fell into a coma, but eventually got in contact with her mother who verified that her daughter had received the required vaccines as a child, the outlet reports.

Still, the vaccine from her childhood may not have been strong enough to prevent Amitai from contracting the virus, as patients were given a single dose of the vaccine in the 1970s, according to The Washington Post.

These days, Israeli medical officials recommend giving children one dose when they’re 12 months old and another one when they’re in the first grade.

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In a statement to the Jewish Press, a spokesperson for El Al Airlines expressed their condolences to Amitai’s family and said they were properly handling the matter “in accordance with the health ministry’s guidelines.”

“The company is bowing its head over the death of a member of El Al’s aircrew,” the spokesperson told the outlet. “The company will continue to act on the matter in accordance with the health ministry’s guidelines.”

“Once the case became known, the company acted to vaccinate the company’s aircrews,” the spokesperson added. “The company shares the deep grief of the family and will continue to accompany the family.”

A spokesperson for El Al Airlines did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

RELATED: Washington Governor Declares State of Emergency for Measles Outbreak Due to Vaccine Hesitancy

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were more reported measles cases in the first half of 2019 than in any other year since 2006. As of Monday, there have also been three times as many cases reported in 2019 than this time last year.

In addition, the United States has recorded its highest measles case count in 25 years, according to the organization.

The WHO noted that most of the outbreaks are occurring “in countries with low measles vaccination coverage,” as well as in areas where there is a “lack of access to quality healthcare or vaccination services, conflict and displacement, misinformation about vaccines, or low awareness about the need to vaccinate.”

To prevent oneself from contracting the illness, the organization urges to ensure all measles vaccinations are up to date — including the two dosages — especially ahead of any traveling.

For those who haven’t yet had the vaccination, the WHO recommends getting the shot at least 15 days prior to travel.

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