New Brunswick

Some students and staff in Anglophone South told to stay home because of measles outbreak

An unspecified number of students, teachers and staff at schools across the Anglophone South School District have been told to stay home until early next week because of the measles outbreak in the Saint John area, says the Department of Health.

Immunization clinic in Saint John now open to general public, not just those potentially exposed

People with measles can be contagious about four days before the red blotchy rash develops, which is usually within three to seven days of infection. (Submitted by Emmanuel Bilodeau)

An unspecified number of students, teachers and staff at schools across the Anglophone South School District have been told to stay home until early next week because of the measles outbreak in the Saint John area, says the Department of Health.

They might be contagious or at risk of contracting the highly contagious disease that's transmitted through the air or by direct contact, said communications director Bruce Macfarlane.

An immunization clinic, originally only for people who may have come into contact with one of the confirmed cases in the region, has also been opened up to anyone born between 1970 and 1995 who doesn't have the recommended two doses of the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, he said.

The clinic, which started Wednesday at noon at Exhibition Park, 39 McAllister Dr., was scheduled to continue until 8 p.m. It will resume Thursday at 10 a.m. until 8 p.m.

There are still only two confirmed cases of measles in the region, said Macfarlane, and the cases are related.

The person from Kennebecasis Valley High School in Quispamsis, confirmed on May 13, 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.

The immunization clinic was initially only for people born in 1970 or later who don't have two MMR does and may have been exposed to the KVHS individual either at Shadow Lawn Inn during lunch on May 6 or at the May 7 John Cleese show at Harbour Station in sections 26 or 27.

Number 'changing by day'

Macfarlane could not immediately say how many people have been excluded from attending school or which schools they're from.

Superintendent Zoë Watson said the number "is changing by day," but the order affects staff at 19 schools in Rothesay, Quispamsis, Belleisle and Hampton.

She previously said about 500 teachers and support staff from those schools may have been exposed to measles when they attended a New Brunswick Teachers' Association meeting at KVHS on May 6.

Grade 8 students from Harry Miller Middle School and Quispamsis Middle School and their parents who went on a tour of KVHS on May 8 could also be at risk, Watson had said.

Precautionary measure

The excluded individuals were singled out either through blood work that showed they're not immune, or lack of proof of the recommended immunization, said Macfarlane.

"The goal of the exclusions is that these particular individuals could be incubating measles and it becomes communicable before symptoms arise," he said.

People infected with the measles virus can be contagious about four days before the telltale rash appears until four days after.

"These measures are to prevent transmission of a highly communicable disease in this exposure setting," he said.

Zoë Watson, superintendent of the Anglophone South School District, said supply teachers have been brought in to cover for the teachers who had to stay home. (CBC)

A notice sent to those who showed non-immunity or didn't have proof of immunization and attended a PD day on May 6 advises them to remain off work until May 27 and to watch for symptoms of the measles.

Those who attended the school transition information session on May 8 should remain off work until May 29, and those who attended KVHS between May 6 and May 9 should remain off work until May 30, it states.

"By Monday we expect all staff, with maybe a couple of exceptions, will be back at school," the superintendent said in an emailed statement.

"Feedback received from our school staff has been very positive, and they appreciate this thorough review of records, the opportunity to have blood work, and an additional immunization to ensure that everyone is safe and healthy," she added.

Info line voice mailbox full

A dedicated phone line set up to help people check their immunization record — 643-6251 — has been fielding an average of 50 calls per hour, said Department of Health spokesperson Alysha Elliott.

On occasion, the voice mailbox has been too full to accept any messages.

But the average response time is approximately one hour, said Elliott.

"If a member of the public has not received a call within one hour we recommend they call Tele-Care," the province's health information line at 811.

About 236 people have called Tele-Care with measles-related questions since April 28, shortly after the first case was announced, she said.

Symptoms to watch for

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.

The disease can be more severe in adults, infants and pregnant women. 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 premature labour, miscarriage and low birth weight.

People who have already had the measles and those born before 1970 are considered immune.

With files from Rachel Cave

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