Measles outbreak in Saint John jumps to 11 confirmed cases
Province now offering MMR vaccine to infants 6 to 12 months old as 2 more cases related to school confirmed
Two new cases of measles have been confirmed in the Saint John area, bringing the total to 11, the province's chief medical officer of health announced on Wednesday.
Both cases of the highly contagious respiratory disease were confirmed late Tuesday and are linked to a previously confirmed case at Kennebecasis Valley High School in Quispamsis, Dr. Jennifer Russell said in a statement.
Measles is transmitted through the air or by direct contact with an infected individual.
At least 2,000 people have potentially been exposed to the virus either through the nine KVHS-related cases or two others who visited the Saint John Regional Hospital's emergency department, officials have said.
"To reduce the potential for further cases, Public Health's immediate focus is vaccination of vulnerable individuals potentially exposed to these cases and the protection of vulnerable populations in the Saint John area," such as infants under 12 months of age, the statement said.
Vaccine now offered for babies
Normally, the measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chicken pox), or MMRV, vaccine is given to infants in New Brunswick at 12 months and 18 months of age.
But because of the outbreak, Public Health is now offering an MMR vaccine, without the varicella component, to babies aged six to 12 months in the Saint John area, confirmed Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane.
"This is based on the fact that MMR (not MMRV) can be given as early as six months of age and would be given to infants travelling outside Canada to areas of measles activity," Macfarlane said in an email to CBC News.
Any babies who receive the MMR would still have to get all their regularly scheduled MMRV vaccines at 12 and 18 months of age, he said.
Measles can be more severe in infants and adults born after 1970. 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.
Province apologizes for mistake
Brittany LaPointe, 23, said the Department of Health apologized to her Wednesday for an incorrect advisory that left her "terrified" for days that she and her nine-month-old son, Ezra, had potentially been exposed to the virus.
The department had issued a notice Monday saying anyone who was at the Saint John Regional hospital's ER last Friday between 9:45 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. may have been exposed.
"I cried as soon as I saw the news release," said LaPointe. She had been there that night with Ezra because he had a high fever. Her boyfriend and nine-year-old stepdaughter were with them.
All four rushed to an immunization clinic Monday so they could get the vaccine within the 72-hour window that provides retroactive protection.
Then, on Tuesday night, the department issued a correction, switching the timeframe of the potential ER exposure to 9:45 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
"So it's been kind of a rollercoaster of emotions since Friday — I think we've been exposed to the measles. No we haven't. Yes we have. No we haven't," said LaPointe.
"I was very relieved this morning [after the department called], but also a little bit frustrated that I've spent so much time worrying about this."
Macfarlane confirmed the department called a citizen to apologize for the mistake, but declined to discuss any specifics, citing confidentiality.
"We have corrected the error and apologize for both the error and any confusion this may have caused," he said.
Other possible exposure times at the ER remain unchanged. They include:
- May 19, 10:45 p.m. to 1:35 a.m.
- May 22, 8 p.m. to 11:05 p.m.
- May 25, 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
LaPointe said her experience at the ER has her wondering how many more cases of measles will be confirmed in the coming days.
After Ezra was triaged, she said they were placed in a pediatric isolation room. A short time later, a woman and girl came in wearing masks, which they removed to eat.
LaPointe said the woman proceeded to tell her she suspected her daughter had measles. "I was a little bit terrified, to be honest."
Her boyfriend expressed concern to a nurse, but was told staff couldn't force anyone to keep their masks on, she said.
"It's just very concerning."
It can take up to 12 days after infection for measles symptoms to begin. They may include fever, cough, runny nose, red or sore eyes, sleepiness, irritability and tiny white spots in the mouth.
About three to seven days after those symptoms start, the telltale red blotchy rash usually develops on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body.
18 students, 3 teachers excluded at KVHS
On Monday, the Department of Health sent a letter to Kennebecasis Valley High School families, advising that anyone who attended the academic awards ceremony at the school the evening of May 23 may have been exposed to an infected individual who was contagious but not diagnosed until the weekend.
About 400 people attended the event.
Classes and other events are continuing as scheduled, including track and field, rugby and theatre workshops, according to Jessica Hanlon, director of communications for the Anglophone South School District.
Some of the school's 1,040 students and 65 teachers have been excluded "due to various immunity-related issues or other followups from the measles outbreak," said Zoë Watson, superintendent of the district.
On Thursday, that will include 18 students and three teachers, she said.
People who believe they are exhibiting symptoms are encouraged to call Tele-Care at 811 for advice.
Those who decide to seek medical attention 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, officials have said.
People born before 1970 are considered immune.
With files from Lauren Bird