Measles outbreak hits unvaccinated in B.C.

Up to 14 Vancouver-area residents have contracted measles in recent weeks, health officials in B.C. are warning, and many of those infected were unvaccinated members of single household.

Up to 14 Vancouver-area residents have contracted measles in recent weeks, health officials in B.C. are warning, and many of those infected were unvaccinated members of a single household.

The BC Centre for Disease Control asked health-care professionals and the public to be alert for measles on Tuesday after eight of the 14 cases were diagnosed in a single household with unvaccinated members.

None of the cases identified to date had received two doses of the measles vaccine, which is needed for full protection, officials said in statement.

Many were not immunized because of philosophical objections, and others received only a single dose of measles vaccine or did not know their immunization status, said health officials.

Officials suspect at least two strains of the virus were brought to B.C. by travellers and passed on to the unvaccinated residents.

Officials did not release the exact location of the outbreak, but noted a separate case of measles has also been confirmed in the Interior of B.C in a traveller who recently returned home from a trip to India.

Risk to vaccinated public is low

Despite the outbreak, the overall the risk for the general population remains very low because most children routinely receive the two vaccines before their second birthday, health officials advised Tuesday.

"Most years, we see no cases of measles in B.C. because our vaccination rates are high," said Dr. Monika Naus, immunization director for the BCCDC.

"Nevertheless, these cases show that with global travel, even a vaccine-preventable disease — as rare as measles is now in Canada — is still only an airplane ride away," she said.

Measles is a highly contagious and airborne virus that is also spread by droplets and direct contact with nasal and throat secretions of an infected person. A person with measles can infect others from four days before to four days after the onset of a rash.

The illness begins with a fever, runny nose and cough. Several days later, a rash appears around the face and then spreads to the chest and limbs. The eyes may be red and very sensitive to light, say health officials.

"Measles is particularly contagious," said Naus. "So contagious that people with measles should avoid exposing others, especially in medical waiting rooms and emergency rooms."

People who get measles generally recover fully after 10 days of sickness, but the effects can be more severe for infants, the elderly and pregnant women.

The virus can cause serious and sometimes permanent health problems, including ear infection, pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, convulsions, deafness or permanent mental disability. One person in every 3,000 with measles may die of complications.

Anyone in B.C. who suspects measles should immediately contact a doctor by telephone first or call HealthLink BC at 811.