Fraser Health’s chief medical health officer is warning about the rise in measles cases in the eastern Fraser Valley.
Dr. Paul Van Buynder said the most recent case involves up to 60 women and newborns in a post-natal unit at Abbotsford Regional Hospital being exposed to the virus by a visitor who was in the early infectious stage at the time.
Public health staff are contacting the affected families directly to offer immunoglobulin to reduce the chance of the infection developing.
“The exposure of newborn children to this virus is a very concerning situation. They are too young to respond to the vaccine and some will not have received protection in utero from their mothers,” Buynder said.
He said this comes after a recent death of a child from pertussis, another vaccine-preventable disease.
“It is a timely reminder that not vaccinating children can have consequences for other vulnerable infants.”
Buynder said he encourages everyone who has not yet been vaccinated against measles to contact their doctor or health provider to receive the free vaccine.
Communities that could be impacted include Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs and Hope.
Buynder said relatively low immunization rates in some parts of Fraser East have led to several clusters of the virus in previous years; the most recent being in April 2010 shortly after the Olympic Games.
In June of this year, health officials issued a similar warning for Metro Vancouver.
He said the most effective protection against the virus is two doses of the vaccine, which is free to all those born after 1957.
If residents suspect they have been exposed or have developed symptoms, they should see their doctor and notify the office before arriving in order to prevent the spread of the disease to others at the clinic, he added.
WHAT IS MEASLES?
Measles (red measles) is an illness caused by the measles virus. Measles is very contagious and can be a severe illness in those lacking previous exposure to the disease or without adequate immunizations.
Measles spreads easily through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes. The virus can survive in small droplets in the air for several hours.
Symptoms of measles include fever, cough, runny nose, and red and inflamed eyes (often sensitive to light).
These are followed by a rash, which starts first on the face and neck, and spreads to the chest, arms and legs, and lasts at least three days.
Among the most serious potential complications is brain inflammation (encephalitis), which occurs in approximately one in 1,000 cases. Other complications, such as pneumonia, are common.
Measles can cause brain damage, blindness and deafness. Approximately one in 3,000 cases are fatal.
Health care providers are reminded that measles is a reportable condition which requires immediate notification to public health. Doctors should be alert to measles if they see kids or adults with a rash, fever, cough and sore eyes.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU/YOUR CHILD DEVELOPS SYMPTOMS?
If you/your child has fever and a rash that you think may be measles, you should be examined by a doctor.
Call ahead so that you can be seen quickly and not expose other people by sitting in a waiting room for any period of time.
You may also be examined in an isolation room (if available) and given a mask to wear, or, arrangements may be made for you to attend the clinic at a time when the waiting room is empty. Bring your/your child’s immunization record with you.
MMR is the vaccine that protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. All individuals born after 1957 should be given two doses of measles-containing vaccine after one year of age.
There is no charge for the vaccination. People born before 1957 are likely immune because measles outbreaks were common at that time and they do not need to be immunized.
To make an appointment for immunization, contact your local health unit during regular business hours.
For more information on measles, call HealthLink BC at 811 or click here.