As Travelers Descend on Cannes, Measles Fears Grip the Croisette

Preparations - The 72nd Annual Cannes Film Festival-Getty-H 2019
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Given the convergence of 40,000 people for the festival, who pack into crowded movie theaters and the bustling indoor film market, Cannes is especially vulnerable.

It’s the guest that no one invited. And yet there’s a legitimate fear that measles could make an appearance at the Cannes Film Festival.

After all, measles is making a deadly comeback around the world, with Europe particularly hard hit with 100,000 cases and more than 90 related deaths since the beginning of 2018, according to the World Health Organization. That has prompted a number of industryites traveling to the famed festival and market to get pricked.

Women and Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein, for one, received a measles vaccination before traveling from New York to France. Like many adults, she wasn’t sure if she was immune and asked her doctor. She was offered a blood test to determine her status definitively, but results would take a week. Instead, her doctor suggested the vaccine, insisting that there is little downside to receiving an unneeded dose as an adult. “I had the option and just decided to go for it,” says Silverstein.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Teni Melidonian also got an MMR booster before she heading to France. “My proactive side kicked in, and I called my ER doc sister-in-law. She encouraged I get the booster, mainly because I may have only received one shot as a child and would be traveling internationally,” says Melidonian. “Within two hours, I walked out of the Larchmont Rite-Aid with a small bandage on my right arm, and this one concern resolved.”

In fact, all adults are advised to get vaccinated against measles if they have never contracted the disease and have not received two doses of the vaccine or they are uncertain of their status.

Given the convergence of 40,000 people for the festival who pack into crowded movie theaters and the bustling indoor film market, Cannes is especially vulnerable. Contingents from countries that are battling current outbreaks — including Japan, Israel and Ukraine — will be on hand at the festival, which kicks off May 13 and runs through May 25.

Dr. Dragan Jankovic, who works for the World Health Organization’s vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization program in Europe, says the disease is “exceptionally contagious,” with 9 out of 10 susceptible people contracting measles if exposed to the virus.

“Someone who is infected can spread the virus four days before they have symptoms,” says Jankovic. “And even after they have left a room, the virus remains active and contagious in the air or on infected surfaces for up to 2 hours.”

Dr. Carolyn Bridges of the Immunization Action Coalition says that Cannes would pose a greater threat than a U.S. festival like Sundance. “Traveling internationally increases a person’s risk for getting exposed to measles,” she says.

Measles, which also has been dominating headlines in the U.S. after a recent outbreak in New York, is one of the leading causes of death in the world from a disease that can be cured by a vaccine.

But one publicist with a host of clients hitting the Cannes market says no one she reached out to took preventative measures. “They’ve been dodging germs at these international markets for years,” says the publicist. “Just another bug to avoid.”