New Brunswick

What you need to know about measles

CBC New Brunswick sat down with Dr. Michael Simon, a family doctor in Saint John, to find out the answers to some of the most frequently asked measles questions. 

Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked measles questions

New Brunswick health authorities are advising staff and students at a Saint John high school that they must receive a measles booster shot if they want to continue going to the school. (Canadian Press)

CBC News made a list of questions frequently asked on our social media accounts about measles. We sat down with Dr. Michael Simon, a family doctor in Saint John, to get answers to most of them. Here's what we learned.

What is the measles?

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease that spreads through direct contact or through the air. Before the vaccine in Canada, about 300,000 to 400,000 kids were infected each year.

Since the vaccine became available, the number of measles cases has decreased by more than 99 per cent, according to Public Health.  

What are the symptoms?

Measles symptoms begin to show eight to 12 days after infection and include: fever, cough, runny nose, red or sore eyes, sleepiness, irritability and tiny white spots in the mouth. In three to seven days, a red blotchy rash develops on the face and spreads to the rest of the body.  

In adults, measles can also cause ear infections, pneumonia, blindness, swelling of the brain leading to seizures, deafness, brain damage or death. In someone who is pregnant, it can cause miscarriage and premature labour.

Measles is diagnosed through blood and urine tests and nose and throat swabs. Recovery typically takes two to three weeks. 

Dr. Michael Simon is a family doctor in Saint John. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

Who's at risk? Who should get vaccinated?

Anyone who has not had the vaccination should get it because these are the people most susceptible to catching the measles. If you've had one vaccination, you're about 85 per cent protected. If you've had two, you're about 97 per cent protected. If you've had the measles, you're considered protected for life.

If you have measles, what are your options?

If you think you have measles, you should contact your family doctor, Public Health or Tele-Care 811 before visiting a clinic, doctor's office or emergency room.

They will make arrangements to have you assessed and treated, if necessary.

We made a list of the most frequently asked measles questions and got answers from a Saint John family doctor. 2:57

Why the fuss over measles now? 

There have been 12 documented cases of measles in New Brunswick this year. One in 10 people may have complications from measles, such as ear infections and pneumonia. For one person in 1,000, there are more serious complications such as measles encephalitis, which can lead to deafness and permanent brain damage. 

Of every 1,000 kids who get measles, one or two will die from respiratory or neurological complications. 

"That's why people are concerned and that's why people are trying to get their vaccine status determined and if they need a booster shot to get it," Dr. Simon said. 

Anyone who has not had the MMR or MMRV vaccination should get it, says Dr. Michael Simon. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

What's the difference between the MMR and MMRV vaccines?

There are two types of vaccines that protect against measles: the measles, mumps, rubella, or MMR vaccine, and the measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, or MMRV, vaccine. The latter protects against varicella, more commonly known as chickenpox. In New Brunswick, kids typically receive two doses of the MMRV vaccine at 12 months and 18 months.

Health officials are giving the MMR vaccine booster to those who have never received their second shot and those who may require a booster.

The vaccines are combined into one shot so children don't have to receive multiple pricks to the arm.

What do you tell people concerned about vaccination?

The link that associates autism with the MMR vaccine is a myth that comes from a small study that has been debunked.

"We have hundreds of thousands of kids who have gone through studies who show there is no link between autism and the MMR vaccine," said Dr. Simon.

"It's a safe vaccine it doesn't cause any autism or developmental problems."

What is herd immunity, and why is it important?

Those with compromised immune systems, like cancer patients, who cannot get the measles vaccine are also at risk of measles. 

Herd immunity is when you immunize as many people in a community as you can. You protect the vulnerable by immunizing everybody else.

"It's like protecting the quarterback, if you have all these protected people surrounding the quarterback, the disease cannot get to that person." 

Who should consider getting a third shot?

Public Health is not recommending a third shot at all. People who work in health care or those who frequently travel outside North America should ensure they have two documented doses. 

The only reason someone would have received a third shot would be as a protective dose within 72 hours of a known exposure.

Individuals can obtain their immunization records by contacting their health care provider that administered the vaccines.

 

With files from Maria Jose Burgos

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