Interior Health on high alert for possible measles cases

No reports of the disease yet, but regular travel to the Coast could bring measles to the Interior

No cases of measles have been confirmed in Interior Health – so far.

Dr. Silvina Mema cautions that awareness of potential measles exposure cases is heightened due to the current situation on the B.C. Coast and in Washington State .

People travel to the Coast or the U.S. from the Interior every day.

“At any given time, Interior Health’s communicable disease unit does get reports of individuals who have potentially been exposed to measles due to travel to other parts of the country and world where measles may be present,” Mema says, pointing out the health authority has reports of a small number of individuals who may have been exposed to measles outside of IH. “Because the number is very small, I cannot speak to details for privacy reasons, but I can say that we would always monitor these cases closely and be in direct contact with those individuals.”

Mema says IH is urging all families to ensure immunizations are up to date and that two doses of the “highly effective and safe” MMR vaccine are the best protection against measles.

Related: Eight cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver outbreak

Measles, also known as red measles, is a severe illness caused by the measles virus, says the Immunize BC website.

Measles can cause encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, which can lead to seizures, deafness, or brain damage. One person in every 3,000 with measles may die from complications. Complications and death are most common in infants less than 12 months of age.

Complications of measles can include: ear infections (1 in 10 cases); diarrhea (8 in 100 cases); pneumonia (1 in 10 cases); hospital stay (1 to 2 in 10 cases) and encephalitis (1 in every 1,000 cases) that can lead to seizures, deafness or permanent brain damage. About one person in 3,000 with measles can die from complications.

Measles causes fever, rash, cold-like symptoms and red, inflamed eyes that can be sensitive to light. It is a very contagious disease and spreads easily. When an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes, the virus spreads through the air and can survive in small droplets in the air for several hours.

Related:Measles outbreak in Washington state spurs warning from BC Centre for Disease Control

Related: Philippines says 136 people have died in measles outbreak

Because of immunization, measles is now a rare disease in Canada. Most cases occur in unimmunized people, including visitors to Canada, who have travelled overseas.

Contact your local IH health unit if are unsure about your immunization status or to book an appointment to be immunized.

“If you feel you have been exposed to measles and have symptoms, call your doctor in advance of an appointment,” says Mema. “If you visit the emergency department, please put on a mask at arrival and immediately tell the triage staff that you think you may have measles so they can take precautions.”

Notifications to schools and specific communities would be part of a process if cases of measles are seen in IH.

“While we do not have a case at this time, we continue to monitor closely,” adds Mema.


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