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Measles outbreak declared by Vancouver Coastal Health

Lorraine Graves   Feb-15-2019

True to its highly contagious manner, measles is spreading. Vaccination can stop the spread.

Photo by Chung Chow


Officially declaring it an outbreak of measles, Vancouver Coastal Health’s medical health officer Dr. Althea Hayden said there are now eight cases of measles, all centred around three French schools in Vancouver: École Anne-Hébert, École Jules-Verne and École Rose-Des-Vents.

Those ill include staff, students and family members associated with the schools.

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Medical professionals caution those who suspect they, or someone in their family, may have measles not to go directly to their doctor but to phone first to avoid exposing others. In the case of an emergency, let 911 know if you suspect measles, so proper safety precautions can be taken.

“As per British Columbia's measles control guidelines, individuals who are not immune to measles may not attend school until the period of transmission has passed,” Hayden said.

In addition to those exposed at the three schools and on the school buses for them, Hayden mentioned another possible exposure: “One of the individuals visited the BC Children's Hospital emergency department while they were infectious. Those who were at the emergency department on the dates and times below could have been exposed. Most people in B.C. are immune to measles. However, if you were at the emergency department during these times and do develop symptoms of measles, please contact your health care provider.”

Those key dates at at B.C. Children's Hospital are:

Jan. 21, between 10 a.m. and 6:10 p.m.

Jan. 23, between 4:45 p.m. and 11:10 p.m.

Jan. 24, between 8:13 a.m. and 11:40 a.m.

Feb. 1, between 2:05 p.m. and 6:55 p.m.

People exposed on the last date “could still become sick from that exposure,” Hayden said. “We are in the process of trying to reach out to all the individuals from that time frame.”

She added: “There are numbers of people in our community who are busy, who haven’t had a chance to get their children vaccinated so they are not up-to-date. I would encourage you to go and do that. I know there are those who have chosen not to immunize their children. At moments like this, it is good to revisit that decision.”

Hayden encouraged the public to be informed: “Please also call Public Health at 604-675-3900 for advice and to report any illness.”

The vaccine is covered by MSP and is available through some family physicians, all public health clinics and some pharmacies.

“The principal message is that we have an outbreak but the broader public isn’t being affected at this time, despite the fact we have a relatively high number of cases,” she said.

The health authority (that also includes Vancouver, North Shore and Sunshine Coast) announced one confirmed case at École Anna-Hébert, which is south of Killarney Park in East Vancouver.

There have already been two laboratory-confirmed cases at École Jules-Verne, which is directly south east of Eric Hamber Secondary.

Then Thursday, a suspected case of measles was found in someone from École Rose-Des-Vents, near École Jules-Verne.

Measles is tricky and highly contagious. The Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia says that 90 per cent of those who come in contact with one person with measles will catch it, if they are not already immune.

That means nine out of ten people who have inadequate vaccination or none, will be sickened by having been in a room with a person coming down, or sick with, measles.

The virus can spread from a seemingly healthy person’s cough, days before they have symptoms.

The infected microscopic droplets can hang about for hours after the person has left the area where they can be breathed in by anyone passing. The virus also can be spread by sharing a smoke, a drink or a kiss.

During the previous outbreak in Vancouver last year, measles was spread by someone before they knew they were ill. They had been at the vast cruise ship terminal in Vancouver Harbour.

It can take weeks after the virus infects you before symptoms appear. At first, they seem like a cold, then a rash that often starts on the face and spreads down the body. In addition to being itchy, people with measles feel very ill. The very young and adults are hardest hit when infected and at greatest risk for lethal pneumonia, brain inflammation or death.

While it is clear that these cases are not related to outbreaks in the U.S. or Europe, the health authority says: “We have identified the original source and the person acquired measles while traveling outside North America.”

The schools share a bus company and because there is a mix of secondary and elementary, many families have children in two of the schools, according to the health unit.

“This is a developing situation for VCH as we are collecting information from people including parents and kids from the affected schools,”a health authority spokesperson said.

“You can get the vaccine for free at your local community health centre, or the City Centre Urgent Primary Care Centre. Your family doctor and your pharmacist (for adults and kids over five) may also have the vaccine available.”

The shots are covered by MSP. Pharmasave pharmacist Geoffrey Kwong at Richlea Square, near Broadmoor, says they have doses in stock.

If in doubt, call ahead to your pharmacist to be sure they have enough vaccine in stock. Erring on the side of caution may save not only your life but that of a baby too young to immunize as well as a child or adult with a weakened immune system.

If you think you have been exposed, the Mayo Clinic advises getting the vaccine right away because the shot can work faster than the virus, if caught early. If you are someone who cannot have the vaccine because of health status, you may be able to get an injection of antibodies to help you fight off the measles. If in doubt, ask your doctor or the public health unit closest to you.

Vaccinations are recommended to any adult or child over one year of age who has uncertain immunization or disease history, Vancouver Coastal Health authority says.

If you suspect measles, phone your doctor or call your local health care provider. They will want to make special arrangements to see you so that you do not infect others on your way to their offices or in their waiting rooms.

General measles info click.


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