New Brunswick

3rd confirmed case of measles in Saint John region prompts rush immunization clinic at school

There is a second confirmed case of measles at Kennebecasis Valley High School in Quispamsis, bringing the total number of cases of the highly contagious respiratory disease in the Saint John region to three.

Public health offers MMR vaccine Friday to all students and staff at Kennebecasis Valley High School

This is what New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, had to say about the third confirmed case of measles in the province. 1:02

There is a second confirmed case of measles at Kennebecasis Valley High School in Quispamsis, bringing the total number of cases of the highly contagious respiratory disease in the Saint John region to three.

Public health scrambled to offer the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine to all KVHS students and staff Friday, regardless of their previous immunization history.

"We know that if somebody is exposed to measles during the time that somebody is contagious — that if you get a dose of the vaccine within 72 hours, that is protective," the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, said during a news conference in Fredericton.

The latest case was confirmed Thursday night, according to an advisory emailed to parents Friday at 7 a.m.

Hundreds of people were at the school Thursday night for an academic awards ceremony.

Because of the short notice about the clinic, students were allowed to sign their own immunization consent forms.

Not mandatory

Although Russell was "encouraging" all students and staff to get the shot on Friday, it was not mandatory, Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane clarified near the end of the school day.

"Over the course of the day and with the tremendous turnout at the school clinic, Public Health believes that we have created sufficient herd [or community] immunity to protect most students and staff," he said in an email to CBC News. "As such Public Health will not be excluding non-participants but thank those that did accept the vaccine."

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, because measles spreads so easily, at least 95 per cent of people need to be vaccinated for so-called herd immunity to work.

The notice sent to parents Friday by Anglophone South School District superintendent Zoë Watson said, "Students and staff who do not receive the vaccine may be excluded from school for 21 days."

Zoë Watson, superintendent of the Anglophone South School District, sent a notice to parents Friday morning, advising them of the second confirmed case at the Quispamsis school. (CBC)

Ten additional public health nurses were brought in from outside the region to help with the special immunization clinic.

KVHS has more than 1,000 students and more than 100 staff.

Immunization clinics were held at the school May 16-17, but those vaccines did not provide retroactive protection because they were not administered within 72 hours of possible exposure, Russell said. They would, however, protect recipients from future events, she said.

Those who received the MMR or another live vaccine within the last month were advised not to get the MMR shot on Friday.

Anyone previously excluded from school was told not to attend the clinic either.

Individuals who are immunocompromised or pregnant should not receive a live vaccine and are being asked to stay home from school until public health can offer further advice.

'There is no blame'

All three confirmed cases in the region are related, said Russell.

The second KVHS case was exposed within the past 72 hours to the first one at the school, announced on May 13, she said without elaborating.

And the first infected individual at KVHS was at the Saint John Regional Hospital's emergency department at the same time as the first confirmed case, announced on April 26.

That person had recently travelled to Europe and visited the Halifax Infirmary's emergency department on April 17 for unrelated symptoms.

No details about the infected individuals have been released.

"There is no blame or responsibility here," said Russell. "These are things that happen that are outside of our control.

"People who go to another country or travel on a plane, where they are exposed to measles, it's not their fault. And so, being exposed in a setting like an emergency department, we're not blaming anybody, it's nobody's fault. These are things that just happen."

People infected with the measles virus can be contagious about four days before the telltale rash appears until four days after. (Submitted by Emmanuel Bilodeau)

An unspecified number of teachers, staff and students at 19 schools across the Anglophone South School District were told earlier this week to stay home until early next week because they may have been exposed to the infected individual at Kennebecasis Valley High School.

They could be incubating the disease that's transmitted through the air or by direct contact, officials said.

About 500 teachers and staff from the various schools attended a New Brunswick Teachers' Association meeting at KVHS on May 6, officials said.

Grade 8 students from Harry Miller Middle School and Quispamsis Middle School and their parents went on a tour of KVHS on May 8.

Mandatory staff immunization to be explored

Education Minister Dominic Cardy said earlier this week he isn't ruling out mandatory immunization for teachers and school staff in the province.

"That's certainly a conversation that will be had going forward," he told CBC News. Russell said now is not the time for that debate.

"That's a conversation we can have outside an outbreak setting."

The vaccination rate among teachers and staff is unknown.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy has pledged to explore all options to protect the public from vaccine-preventable diseases like measles. (Gilles Landry/Radio-Canada)

Liberal education critic and Victoria-La Vallée MLA Chuck Chiasson said it's important to know that number before making any decisions.

"I think it's a good thing that we assess the size of the problem to see how serious it is," he said in an emailed statement.

"The safety of the students will always be the priority, but there are certain charter rights that need to be taken into consideration."

New Brunswick and Ontario are the only two jurisdictions in Canada that require students to prove they are immunized against several diseases, including measles, mumps and diphtheria, before they enter the school system. Some exemptions are granted for medical or personal reasons.

Symptoms of infection not immediate

Measles symptoms, which usually begin within eight to 12 days after infection, may include fever, cough, runny nose, red or sore eyes, sleepiness, irritability and tiny white spots in the mouth.

Within three to seven days, a red blotchy rash usually develops on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body.

Anyone exhibiting symptoms should call ahead before visiting their doctor's office, a clinic or emergency room so proper measures can be put into place to prevent the possible spread to others, said Russell.

Measles is diagnosed through blood and urine tests and swabs of the nose and throat.

There is no cure for the disease. Treatment is meant to relieve symptoms and prevent complications.

Complications can be fatal

Most people with measles recover completely after about 10 days, but complications can include ear infections, pneumonia, blindness and swelling of the brain, which can cause seizures, deafness, brain damage or death.

If contracted during pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage, premature labour, and low birth weight.

In New Brunswick, children are routinely immunized against the measles with two doses of MMR, at 12 months and 18 months. Both shots provide nearly 100 per cent protection.

But some people born between 1970 and 1995 have not had the recommended second dose. One vaccine is about 85 per cent effective.

Anyone born before 1970 is considered immune.

A dedicated phone line has been set up to help people check their immunization record — 643-6251. 

With files from Rachel Cave and Shane Fowler

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