A measles outbreak in Alberta is cause for concern in Newfoundland and Labrador, says the chief medical officer for the eastern region of the province.

"Absolutely — we have to really be on our toes because of the significant amount of travel that goes on ... not only between Alberta and here, but all across the country," said Dr. David Allison.

Alberta officially declared a measles outbreak in Calgary, Edmonton and central Alberta on Tuesday. Health officials say the declaration was prompted by "several consecutive weeks in which new cases of measles disease have been confirmed."

To date, there have been 22 cases of measles confirmed in Alberta, but because it has a long incubation period, more cases are expected to emerge. The official "outbreak" declaration means changes to the recommendations for routine immunization for children, expanding the program for infants over the age of six months to just under 12 months.

Allison said it appears cases of the measles have been showing up in almost every province, but so far none have been reported in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"So it's possible here, but I think we're well protected," he said. "We know we have good high rates (of immunization) in young children because our public health nurses do a very good job of chasing down kids. And the small number of family physicians do a pretty good job of making sure kids are immunized."

'We do absolutely try to make sure everyone is (immunized) because there are a lot of communicable diseases that are preventable through it. We've been pretty fastidious about making sure people are offered the vaccine, even if they don't want it."'- Dr. David Allison

Children usually receive their first shots at one year of age and 18 months, with followups to make they're covered at two years and when they begin school.

Allison says two doses have been given since 1996. And he said staff have gone back as far as 1983 to make sure people born around that time also get the double shot.

He acknowledged, however, that it's not mandatory.

"But we do absolutely try to make sure everyone is (immunized) because there are a lot of communicable diseases that are preventable through it. We've been pretty fastidious about making sure people are offered the vaccine, even if they don't want it."

Allison said the immunization program in the 1960s included only one dose, and covered "only" about 90 per cent of the population.

"It doesn't take very many susceptible people in the population for it to spread. It's very infectious."

Coughing common culprit

Measles is most often transmitted through simple coughing, but Allison said the danger is that someone could be infected without knowing it.

"It's transmissible before the rash appears, before the individual clearly has symptoms."

He said anyone born before 1970 should be immune, since they likely had measles through a natural infection.

Anyone born after that year, however, is urged to make sure they've had two doses of the vaccine.

Measles affects the skin, respiratory and immune systems. Symptoms usually develop seven to 14 days after exposure to an infected person, with initial symptoms including high fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, a hacking cough, runny nose and red eyes.

That's followed by a spot-like rash that can cover most of the body for up to 10 days, as long as there are no complications.