Vancouver Coastal Health announced the second case of measles this month in our region.
In a late afternoon press conference Wednesday (Feb. 13) medical health officer Dr. Althea Hayden said it will be at least two weeks, “before we know if these two cases are related.”
It takes two weeks to do the genetic testing on the patients’ viruses to see if they are the same strain.
That will then say whether the two cases are likely to be from the same source.
“It is safe to assume at least one other person in our community had the measles," Hayden said. "It could have been a visitor who was only temporarily here. It’s really unknown. We are doing our best to investigate to ensure there is no further transmission from this outbreak."
Hayden said measles "starts with a cough, runny nose and eyes. Then a few days later, there is a rash on the face that spreads onto the chest then all over the body."
According to Hayden, it is infants and adults who come down with measles who are most at risk for the severe consequences, including, “pneumonia, encephalitis–a brain inflammation, seizures, deafness, or in rare cases, about one in 1,000, death.”
It means if you get measles, your risk of dying is 80 times greater than your chance of being hit by lightning sometime in your entire lifetime.
According to the US Centres for Disease control: “About 30 percent of measles cases develop one or more of the following complications:
• Pneumonia is the complication that is most often the cause of death in young children.
• Ear infections occur in about one in 10 measles cases and permanent loss of hearing can result.
• Diarrhea is reported in about eight per cent of cases.
• These complications are more common among children under five years of age and adults over 20 years old.”
Measles is spread through the air or by sharing food, cigarettes and kisses. The measles virus can live in the air for up to two hours, long after the person getting sick has left. People can spread measles when they are sick or even days before they feel ill.
Hayden says the best way to be safe is to get the measles vaccine which, after two shots, is 99 percent effective.
She says most people born before 1970 had at least one dose of the vaccine and either had measles or were exposed to the infection so that they likely have effective antibodies.
She cautioned that anyone who is not sure of their status should get the vaccine through a public health clinic, their family physician or a pharmacy.
The shots are covered by MSP so there is no charge. An extra shot is not harmful. Hayden repeated that anyone who does not know their vaccination status or whose parent can’t remember if they had measles, should go get their shots.
She said adults absolutely need boosters, as much as children, to keep themselves and other people safe.
“You have to have about 92 percent of the population immune to measles,” she said.
This keeps those without strong immune systems safe. Babies receive a dose of their mother’s antibodies through the placenta before they are born. These gradually wear off but a baby’s system can’t use the measles vaccine to make their own antibodies until they are older. This window is a particularly dangerous time for babies, if not enough people in our community have been vaccinated.
“We have very good rates of vaccination in Vancouver Coastal Health but there are some who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons,” Hayden said. These adults and children rely, for their health and safety, on other people’s vaccinations. Vaccinations stop the spread of a measles infection.
She said that the two cases are in the Vancouver Coastal Health region which encompasses Vancouver, Richmond, the North Shore and the Sunshine Coast but did not elaborate. She also said that to respect patient confidentiality, their ages and immunization status would not be released.
Hayden added: “It’s not clear the relationship between those two cases. We have a mystery which is why we are having this conversation today.”