New Brunswick

Mother says hospital ERs unprepared for measles patients

A Moncton mother is warning emergency rooms are unprepared to deal with outbreaks of measles. It comes as a second case of measles in a month was discovered in the Saint John area this week — the first reported cases in the province since 2017.

Faced with measles scare, mother calls hospital ahead of time to find out protocol and learns there isn't one

Kathleen Gunn thought her five-year-old son Isaiah had measles. She was shocked that both the Georges-L.-Dumont Hospital and the Moncton Hospital both seemed to lack protocols to protect other people in the emergency room from a suspected infectious disease. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

A Moncton mother is warning emergency rooms are unprepared to deal with outbreaks of measles.

It comes as a second case of measles in a month was discovered in the Saint John area this week — the first reported cases in New Brunswick since 2017. The second individual had visited the ER in Saint John at the same time as the first. 

When Kathleen Gunn's five-year-old son Isaiah was showing signs of measles, she did what any responsible parent would do — she called.    

"I called ahead of time and asked what their protocols would be, and they said that they don't have any protocols, and I can just bring him in," said the 27-year-old mother.

Kathleen Gunn says emergency rooms are unprepared to handle measles outbreaks after what she experienced with two Moncton hospitals. 0:38

That was the answer from the Georges-Dumont Hospital.

It didn't sound right to her, so she tried the Moncton Hospital next. She was put through to an emergency nurse.

I was in shock. There's no words really.- Kathleen Gunn

"She told me that her nurses are too busy to discuss protocols and hung up on me," said Gunn.

"I was in shock. There's no words really."

Rash on face and neck

Isaiah's face was covered in a red bumpy rash, that spread down to his throat and neck. The symptoms started a few days prior, with a cough and a runny nose.

Even though he received the MMR vaccine, the doctor had called the family after the second dose to say there was a little problem with the shot — it was expired.

Kathleen Gunn was worried her son had measles when he developed this rash that spread down his neck and onto his body. He has been vaccinated, but Gunn said her doctor had recently let her know the vaccine he received had expired. (Submitted by Kathleen Gunn)

Gunn ended up bringing her son to the Georges-Dumont emergency room. When she explained to a nurse Isaiah's symptoms, they were not given masks or separated from other patients. 

In the end, Gunn was relieved to learn it was fifth disease.

According to public health, fifth disease, often called "slapped face" disease, is an infection which, in children, often appears as a bright red rash on the face. It is usually mild but in cases of people with low immune systems or pregnant women in can cause complications.

Gunn feels the hospitals should have handled things differently.

"You don't know if people in the waiting room have low immune systems," she said. "There's elderly — there's an elderly person that was brought in a wheelchair. And I was just horrified one of these people was going to get what Isaiah had."

A Moncton mother says hospitals brushed off her concerns when she told them her son might have the measles. Her 5 year old, Isaiah, came down with with a fever, runny nose and spreading rash. All of them are key symptoms of measles. Kathleen Gunn spoke with reporter Vanessa Blanch about the response she got when she called the hospital. 7:33

Not supposed to go in

Gunn's story differs vastly from how the health authorities say these cases should be handled.

A spokesperson for the Vitalité Health Network, which runs the Georges-Dumont Hospital, said because measles is highly contagious, it requires the implementation of specific protocols.

"Upon arrival, once there is suspicion of potential measles, the patient must be provided with a regular face mask and is immediately placed in a negative pressure isolation room," Thomas Lizotte, regional media relations adviser, wrote to CBC News.

The Vitalité Health Network, which runs the Dumont hospital, says there are specific protocols to follow when a patient comes to the ER with a suspected case of measles. (CBC)

Horizon Health Network, which runs the Moncton Hospital, follows a similar process, but a spokesperson there said people with suspected or confirmed measles should not go to emergency rooms at all.

"Unless urgent care is required, they should remain at home until four days after the rash appears," said Shannon MacLeod, senior communications adviser. People who think they have measles should also call New Brunswick Tele-Care 811.

According to a statement from the office of public health, the health-care provider can tell patients to come in, and prepare precautionary measures as needed, or tell the patient to self-isolate at home. It depends on "symptoms and severity as well as the potential for an exposure."

Horizon Health also has protocols, including isolating the patient, but the network would prefer that people who think they have measles stay home. (CBC)

Gunn said she would do it all over again but wishes the case was taken more seriously.

"I feel like other people need to be protected," she said. "I think that there needs to be the proper measures in place to deal with these kinds of situations.

"They thought I was overreacting … it's disheartening really."


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Kathleen Gunn's last name.
    May 15, 2019 4:03 PM AT


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