Island Health is encouraging all residents to check their vaccination records following an outbreak of measles in Washington state which prompted their governor to declare a state of emergency.
Dr. Charmaine Enns, medical health officer for Island Health said while the measles is a serious infection, it is vaccine-preventable.
“Before the vaccine, (measles) was quite common but serious. As we vaccinate, sometimes we lose seriousness of the infection. This is a disease that is serious; it can cause infections or pneumonia.”
She added there is a 1 in 1,000 chance of measles causing encephalitis (brain inflammation), while the death rate for the disease is 1 in 3,000.
As of Jan. 28, there have been 36 confirmed cases of the measles in Washington state since the beginning of the year.
On Monday, Washington public health officials confirmed two cases of measles in Hawaii were in unvaccinated children who travelled from the state to Hawaii.
Measles is highly infectious and spreads through the air by coughing and sneezing, as well as respiratory secretions said Enns.
Measles symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes, followed a few days later by a rash that starts on the face and spreads to the chest. It is important to note people with measles can infect others prior to the onset of symptoms like fever and rash.
As a result of the number of incidents in the neighbouring state and the close proximity to B.C., the BC Centre for Disease Control has issued a warning to British Columbians following the outbreak.
Enns explained if residents are fully vaccinated, there is generally little to worry about. She added there are exceptions for individuals such as those who’ve had bone marrow transplants or have recently gone through chemotherapy; those residents may have to be re-immunized.
If someone cannot find their immunization records, she encourages residents to check with their doctor but said it would be simply a wasted dose if vaccinated twice.
The measles vaccine is available as a combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and is available from a local health unit, family doctor and many pharmacists.
“The purpose of the vaccine is twofold: to prevent the disease and to reduce the transmission,” she explained.
In B.C., children receive two doses of measles-containing vaccine during routine immunization, with the first at 12 months of age and the second at four years of age or school entry.
Adults born before Jan. 1, 1970 are generally assumed to have acquired immunity to measles from natural infection, however, there may be a small number of susceptible individuals born before 1970 who do not have a history of measles disease. For health care workers, Enns noted those born in 1957 or later, who do not have evidence of immunity measles, need two doses of a measles-containing vaccine. Those born before 1957 are considered immune to the disease.
“You really don’t want to get measles to develop a natural immunity, because there is a chance you can die; you want to be protected.”
To date, no cases have been reported in B.C. related to the Washington state outbreak, but travellers to affected communities are at risk of exposure, said Enns.
There have been outbreaks in Western Europe within the past year, and anytime travel is involved, there is a chance of spreading the disease. There was a case of the measles reported during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
The last large outbreaks of measles in B.C. were in 2014 and 2010.
To find a public health unit anywhere in the province, see the site finder on ImmunizeBC.ca.