Measles hasn't made for Okanagan yet
There hasn’t been any cases of measles in the Okanagan yet, but that doesn’t mean the outbreak in the Fraser Valley won’t make into the Interior.
“There certainly is a possibility for spread, in particular during this time when it is spring break and we expect that children and their families are doing some travelling between regions in the province,” said Dr. Sue Pollock, medical health officer with the Interior Health Authority.
The outbreak, which began at a Christian school with a low vaccination rate and now accounts for an estimated 100 cases of measles in Chilliwack and Agassiz, has spread into the general population, according to a Fraser Health Authority report. This is the second outbreak in two years in Fraser East. Measles spreads by touch or through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes.
“In North America, it is no longer a common childhood disease and that is due to our immunization programs,” said Pollock. In the Interior Health region, she added, immunization rates average 88 per cent for children entering the school system.
“It is still important that people are aware there are risks associated with measles. It isn’t common now and maybe people don’t realize that children can become quite sick with measles and, very rarely, even die from measles.”
Complications from measles include ear or respiratory infections like pneumonia, and in extreme cases, brain inflammation, blindness and deafness.
“One in about 3,000 individuals with measles may actually die from it,” said Pollock.
Early symptoms include a high fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes. The trademark rash develops a few days later.
“They will be infectious from about four days before that rash develops to about four days after,” said Pollock.
The last outbreak of measles in the Interior Health region was in 2011, a cluster of eight cases. In the past, though, the disease was much more common, accounting for 500,000 deaths worldwide in the year 2000. Mass immunizations have drastically reduced that figure.
“For the last 14 years we have seen a real reduction in the number of measles deaths,” said Pollock, noting that in 2012, the number of measles deaths had been reduced by 80 per cent.
Adults are also susceptible to the disease. Interior Health recommends that anyone born after 1970 check their immunization records to make sure they have had two doses of the measles vaccine. Those that haven’t and also haven’t had the disease, said Pollock, should contact a health unit.
“We do encourage people to check their immunization and get themselves updated with the two doses so we can protect those around us who are more vulnerable.” she said.
“For individuals born before 1970, we consider them immune because there was much more measles circulating during that time and they probably have been exposed.”
The side effects of the vaccine, Pollock explained, are generally minor— a sore arm or a little bit of a fever, potentially a rash.
“But compared to the risk of getting measles itself, and some of the potential complications, the risks are much less with the vaccine than the actual disease,” said Pollock.