New Brunswick

People need educating about life-saving measles vaccine, specialist says

A Nova Scotia  infectious diseases specialist says the best way to prevent the spread of measles is through vaccination, but immunization rates aren't where they should be to prevent the contagious disease.

Department of Health says 87% of children entering kindergarten have their measles-mumps-rubella vaccine

Earlier this week, the Department of Public Health announced it is investigating a second confirmed case of measles in New Brunswick. (Submitted by Emmanuel Bilodeau)

A Nova Scotia infectious diseases specialist says the best way to prevent the spread of measles is through vaccination, but immunization rates aren't where they should be.

"There's this balance of individual rights and community rights," said Joanne Langley, who is also chair in pediatric vaccinology at Dalhousie University.

"We have an individual responsibility to take care of the people that are around us, whether it's our family or the general community."

According to the Department of Health, 87 per cent of children entering kindergarten have been vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella.

The province recommends children be immunized at 12 months and again six months later.

"That's all the vaccine you need really for life," Langley said.

If you, for example, bring someone with measles into your household and people aren't immunized, nine out of 10 people inside the house will get measles it's so contagious.-Joanne Langley, infectious disease specialist

On Monday, public health announced Kennebecasis Valley High School in Quispamsis had the second confirmed case of the highly contagious respiratory disease in the Saint John area in recent weeks.

Health officials have not released any information about the two affected individuals, citing privacy, but the cases are related and both people are isolated at home.

Since the introduction of routine immunization programs in the 1960s, Langley said, society has forgotten about life-threatening diseases like measles.  

"Many of these diseases that our grandparents might remember with fear have disappeared from public view," she said. "We forget what it was like to watch a child die of diphtheria or measles or whooping cough."  

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

More conversation needed 

While not everyone can get vaccines because of a health condition, many parents are refusing vaccinations entirely. Some of these cases might be for religious or cultural reasons, while others might be ambivalent because of what they see on social media.

That's why Langley said education is important when it comes to immunization programs and there needs to be more conversations surrounding a vaccine safety system that's in place in Canada.

"All health-care providers are very concerned that our safety system is intact and that we have a very rigorous process to develop these vaccines and to watch for side effects," she said.   

She said vaccines are carefully evaluated before ever being recommended to public health programs. In fact, before they're ever introduced, they've been tested on up to 60,000 people, she said.

Who's been exposed?

When there is a measles outbreak, she said a national database would help to identify who has been vaccinated and who hasn't. It would also help public health determine whether it's meeting its immunization goals. 

"We're spending public money to buy vaccines, to deliver them, and part of that is figuring out, are we meeting our immunization program goals?"

Joanne Langley is an infectious disease specialist and chair in pediatric vaccinology at Dalhousie University. (Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation)

Measles is highly contagious and is transmitted through the air or by direct contact. People infected with the measles virus can be contagious about four days before the rash appears until four days after.

"If you, for example, bring someone with measles into your household and people aren't immunized, nine out of 10  people inside the house will get measles it's so contagious."

Measles can cause brain infection

For one in 1,000 people, Langley said the disease will cause a brain infection called encephalitis, which can lead to blindness or deafness. In children, it can also lead to pneumonia.

Measles can also cause high fever, a body rash, red bloodshot eyes and "feeling miserable."

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.

Anyone who believes they have symptoms should isolate themselves and seek medical attention.

Langley said it's also important to keep personal vaccination records.

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

Until the two cases this year, the last confirmed case of the measles in New Brunswick, in 2017, was a student at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton, Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon

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