A single confirmed case of measles has been discovered at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside, N.S., prompting a wave of vaccinations among inmates and staff at the jail, according to the Nova Scotia Health Authority. 

Measles is a viral illness that can cause fever, coughing and a red, blotchy rash on the body, along with other symptoms. Most people recover from the virus in two to three weeks.

Measles can cause serious complications for infants, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.

It doesn't appear that any of the women at the medium-security facility are pregnant and staff are checking to see if anyone at the jail has a compromised immune system. 

Highly infectious

The infected person was an inmate at the jail who has since been released after serving their sentence, said Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, on Monday.

"Measles is a highly infectious disease," Strang said in an interview. 

"Even what we call shared air space, you're breathing the same air with somebody ... because of the movement of inmates within the facility, there's no way to say anybody who's in the building at the time as this individual could have been exposed. We're not saying they were, but we can't rule out for sure that they weren't."

Vaccinations were offered to inmates and staff at the facility on Sunday. Public health teams had to act fast to try and prevent the spread of the virus.

Measles can live in a room for up to two hours. In a jail, where people share many common areas, the virus could spread very quickly, Strang said in a release.

Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside

Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside. (Robert Short/CBC)

Vaccine can help prevent transmission

Vaccinating people with the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine following exposure to can help prevent transmission.

Public health workers screened inmates and correctional staff to determine their immunization status and provide vaccinations to those who needed it.

Strang said 200 people were screened Sunday night and 125 of them needed a repeat immunization.  

Staff with public health are also reaching out to volunteers and inmates who may have left the facility to make sure they are not sick. 

There have been 30 confirmed cases of the measles this year in Nova Scotia, spread among two separate outbreaks.

The first outbreak was in January and February, while the current outbreak started in March.

The release said the risk to the general public remains low as most people are protected from measles by vaccination.