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Vancouver: Measles

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    Posted: February 16 2019 at 9:49am

Health officials confirm measles outbreak at Vancouver schools

Health officials say there are confirmed and suspected cases at three French language schools in Vancouver.

Tiffany Crawford & Harrison Mooney     
Updated: February 15, 2019

Health officials confirmed Friday there have been at least eight cases of measles detected in Vancouver schoolchildren this week and are officially declaring an outbreak.

Vancouver Coastal Health said they have identified several cases of measles at three French-language schools: Two cases at École Jules‐Verne, one case at École Anne‐Hébert, and one suspected case at École Rose-Des-Vents.

All eight cases are associated with École Jules‐Verne, a secondary school in Vancouver’s South Cambie neighbourhood.

Two of those cases were announced earlier this week, with a third confirmed and a fourth suspected case discovered on Thursday. In a conference call Friday, authorities said several more cases are being investigated for a total of at least eight cases.

An unrelated ninth case was also confirmed last week.

“Cases are occurring in staff, students and family members affiliated with this school,” said medical health officer Dr. Althea Hayden, adding that at least one person went to the emergency room at B.C. Children’s Hospital while they were still infectious.

In addition to urging under-vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals to be immunized, VCH has encouraged anyone who visited the emergency department at the following times, and develops symptoms of measles, to contact their health care provider:

• January 21, 2019 – 10am to 6:10pm
• January 23, 2019 – 4:45pm to 11:10pm
• January 24, 2019 – 8:13am to 11:40am
• February 1, 2019 – 2:05pm to 6:55pm

While there is an outbreak of measles and a state of emergency in neighbouring Washington state, where at least 54 cases of the disease have been confirmed, Vancouver’s outbreak has instead been traced to a single Vancouver family who recently returned from the Philippines.

“There was an unimmunized family who travelled to an area where there was an outbreak going on,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, “and they became ill through contacts there and came back to B.C., and it’s unfortunately spread to some people here,” she said.

VCH spokeswoman Tiffany Akins said they are still gathering information from parents and children at the affected schools.

She said two of the schools are connected by a door, and use the same bus company.

Several cases of measles have been identified at two Vancouver schools.

Following news of the second case Tuesday, Maple Ridge mother Katie Clunn started a petition that has swiftly garnered more than 10,000 signatures to call on the government to make vaccines mandatory for B.C. schoolchildren.

Asked about the petition, Henry agreed with the sentiment behind the idea, but not the idea itself.

“I think that reflects how important immunizations are, and people recognizing that,” she said, “I think it’s the silent majority of people who do immunize their children. But we often hear so much in the media about anti-immunization messages and that can be really challenging.

“I actually am not in favour of mandatory immunization because I think it can alienate that very small group of sometimes very vocal people who are against all immunizations.”

Rather, Henry pushed for mandatory reporting of childhood immunizations at daycares and school entry, which alerts health officials to families who may need to be reminded or educated about the importance of vaccinations.

“That gives us an opportunity to understand which children are immunized and which aren’t, because that gives us an opportunity to talk to families about the important of immunization,” she said. “That has been proven in studies around the world to be an effective way of increasing immunizations in our communities.”

Henry also recommended that individuals uncertain if they’ve received two doses of the widely available MMR vaccine, especially parents of infants who cannot be immunized to measles until they’re a year old, simply go get a booster.

“If you’re not sure, it’s perfectly fine to get a second dose of measles vaccine and this is a good opportunity to think about doing that,” she said. “There’s no problem if you did have two doses and you get another dose.”

The disease, which was nearly eradicated in many parts of the world, has seen a resurgence in recent years, which the World Health Organization blames on an anti-vaccination movement, which largely grew from a campaign of misinformation. Research published in the Lancet in 1998 that linked the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, to autism has been thoroughly debunked and its author discredited.

The WHO has listed vaccine hesitancy, the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines, as one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019.

Last year, six cases were confirmed across B.C., up from a single case in 2017 and two cases in 2016, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

B.C. last experienced a measles outbreak in 2014, when 343 cases were reported, most of them linked to an outbreak in a religious community that objects to vaccination.

The most recent cases have B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix urging people to get vaccinated to protect themselves. He also said it’s the responsibility of parents to ensure their children are vaccinated, and to also think of other people’s kids who could be infected.

He added that vaccination rates could be higher and anyone who needs more information should contact a local health authority.

Measles spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to Vancouver Coastal Health. Complications can include inflammation of the brain, convulsions, deafness, brain damage and even death.

Infection does not require close contact and measles can survive in close areas, such as a bathroom, for up to two hours after an infected person has left. It causes fever, red eyes, coughing, a runny nose and a rash. Most people recover within a week or two.

Measles is easily prevented through vaccination, which Vancouver Coastal Health recommends.
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