Measles vaccine encouraged

Outbreak in Lower Mainland could spread as families travel for spring break

An outbreak of measles is occurring in the Fraser Valley Health Unit, confined mostly to the Chilliwack Aggasiz areas, although there has also been a case confirmed in Burnaby. Both Chilliwack and Agassiz have low rates of measles immunization.

Medical Health Officer for Interior Health, Dr. Sue Pollock, says that there are currently no cases reported in the Interior Health region, but that may change.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see it spread,” Dr. Pollock said. “It’s spring break and kids are travelling throughout the province with their families.”

There is an effective vaccine for measles — about 88 per cent of kindergarten age children in the IH area are immunized. Recent outbreaks in Alberta, and in the Fraser Valley, are being seen in the unvaccinated population.

“There is local variability,” Dr. Pollock said. “Some areas in Interior Health are above 90 per cent immunized and some are less than 80 per cent.”

Dr. Pollock says there are three main reasons why some parents do not immunize their children. One, parents may object on religious or philosophical grounds; 2, parents may doubt the safety of the vaccine; or 3, they just haven’t got around to it.

“It is a two-dose vaccine series,” she said. “We encourage people to check their own and their children’s immunization records to make sure that both shots were received.”

IH advises everyone born since 1970 should be vaccinated. People born prior to that date were likely exposed to measles or had them.

You can call your local health unit to make an appointment for a measles vaccine. In Kimberley, that’s 250-427-2215, in Cranbrook, 250-420-2207

“We will certainly accommodate anyone looking to get their vaccine up to date,” Dr. Pollock said.

Measles can cause encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, which can lead to seizures, deafness or brain damage. Measles are highly contagious.

Early symptoms are fever, cough, runny nose and red, inflamed eyes that are sensitive to light.

A red blotchy rash appears three to seven days after fever starts, beginning behind the ears and on the face and spreading down to the body and then to the arms and legs. It can also present with white spots in the mouth.

If you suspect that you or anyone in your family is ill with the measles, call the ER or doctor ahead of time to avoid exposing others.