Thirty newborn babies and their mothers might have been exposed to measles after someone with a measles rash walked onto the maternity ward of Abbotsford hospital on Thursday, officials with the Fraser Health Authority say.

Newborns are too young to be vaccinated against the disease, which is airborne and highly contagious, said Fraser Health’s chief medical health officer Paul Van Buynder.

Measles vaccine facts

  • The measles vaccine is combined with the mumps and rubella (German measles) vaccines, so a person can receive protection from three diseases with one shot.
  • The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is provided for free as part of the routine immunization schedule in British Columbia.
  • The MMR vaccine is given to children as a series of two doses at age 12 months and at four to six years of age.
  • The vaccine is also provided for free to women of child-bearing age who are not immune to rubella and older children and adults born after 1956 who have not been immunized.
  • About 75 per cent of children in B.C. receive both doses of the MMR vaccine by their second birthday.

(Source: B.C. Centre for Disease Control)

The illness is extremely dangerous, and in one in 3,000 cases, it can be fatal.

Fraser Health is warning people in Abbotsford to get vaccinated against measles, adding that in some areas nearby , vaccination rates are close to zero.

"There are groups in Fraser East who don't believe in immunization and that they are likely to share this disease, given the likelihood that they will get measles at this moment," Van Buynder said. 

"If you get sick in the next few weeks, please don't visit our hospitals or out areas where there are large groups of vulnerable people at risk," he added.

The symptoms of measles include fever, cough, runny nose, and watery inflamed eyes, and small red spots with white or bluish white centers in the mouth.

Then a dusky red, blotchy rash begins on the face and spreads all over the body on the third to seventh day of illness, lasting for four to seven days. Anyone with symptoms should see a doctor.

According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control the last significant measles outbreak occurred in 2010 in British Columbia when 82 case were confirmed after the Winter Olympic Games held in Vancouver.

That was the largest measles outbreak in B.C. since 1997 when 247 cases were reported.