Nova Scotia

Doctor highlights 'unbelievable' inconvenience of measles scare

An emergency doctor says a visit from a patient with measles to a Halifax emergency room two weeks ago has put at least one doctor temporarily out of work and caused other complications behind the scenes.

Dr. Constance LeBlanc describes toll of measles case on health-care workers

Dr. Constance LeBlanc says she needed to do a blood test before she could go back to work after a patient with measles visited the Halifax Infirmary. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

An emergency doctor says a visit from a patient with measles to a Halifax emergency room two weeks ago has put at least one doctor temporarily out of work and caused other complications behind the scenes.

On April 17, an individual from New Brunswick visited the Halifax Infirmary's emergency department on Robie Street for symptoms unrelated to measles. They were later found to have the infectious disease.

Dr. Constance LeBlanc was working that night.

She said measles is contagious for several days before the person starts showing symptoms, so the person from New Brunswick was communicable and could have exposed patients and hospital staff to the illness during their visit to the QEII Health Sciences Centre.

"Measles is transmitted by droplets, and those droplets can persist in the air for up to two hours," said LeBlanc.

"Ninety per cent of people who are exposed to it [who] aren't vaccinated will develop measles."

The person was confirmed to have the measles on Friday. They are now isolated at home in Saint John.

Staff needed to be tested before returning to work

LeBlanc, who worked an overnight shift Friday, said she was woken up after her shift and had to do a number of blood tests before she could come back to work.

"Had I not been immune, all the patients I had seen on Friday night would have had to be contacted and would be potentially getting measles," she said. 

"For patients who have a normal immunity and [have] been vaccinated, that's not a problem. But anybody on chemo, or who has [an] anaphylactic allergy to eggs and can't be vaccinated, or has any kind of immunosuppressive situation, they would be at [a] high risk from me, were I not immune."

All the cleaners, doctors and nurses working that night had to be tested to ensure they were immune before they could return to their jobs.

The patient with measles arrived at the QEII Health Sciences Centre on April 17. (Robert Short/CBC)

While LeBlanc only ended up missing one shift, one of her colleagues wasn't as lucky.

"We still have one doctor who tested negative [for measles immunity], despite the fact that he has been vaccinated and had all of his vaccinations. And so he can't work for two weeks on account of this person," she said. 

"This is a man with small children who is going to make no money for two weeks. It's not OK. The inconvenience is unbelievable."

Many people are unaware that their immunity can wear off over time. People born in Canada between 1970 and 1996 may need an extra dose of the vaccine to protect themselves.

No other reported cases in Nova Scotia

In a statement, the Nova Scotia Health Authority said they hadn't yet received any reports of symptoms from patients or staff at the hospital that night.

The statement said health-care workers follow routine airborne precautions when someone with an airborne-spread illness is in hospital.

"Anyone suspected of having symptoms is provided a surgical mask to wear and that patient will be given a single or private room where available," it said.

Canadian measles stats

As of April 13, 41 cases of measles have been reported across Canada in 2019, according to the country's weekly measles and rubella monitoring report. There are 10 active cases in the country. None have been reported in Nova Scotia so far this year.

The best way to prevent measles is through vaccination, but Nova Scotia has one of the lowest childhood measles vaccination rates in Canada, which was an estimated 71.7 per cent for seven-year-olds in 2013.

"I think that's terrible," said LeBlanc.

"When you look at a community, we're looking at herd immunity. So when over 25 per cent of your population is not immunized, those people can carry measles and transmit it to other people."

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