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Measles concerns as March Break begins

By Adam Riley Mar 8, 2024 | 6:00 PM

Northwestern Health Unit Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kit Young-Hoon addresses Dryden council in 2019 (Adam Riley / Acadia Broadcasting)

Measles, a virus ones thought eradicated in Canada is making its return, with cases in both Ontario and Quebec now indicating community spread, and as March Break travel begins for many, one of the region’s top doctors is urging caution.

The Northwestern Health Unit’s Doctor Kit Young-Hoon says no cases are present in the area as of Friday, but should it show up when people return from international travel, health authorities will be ready.

“Any suspect cases would need to be tested and so that usually includes a throat or nasopharyngeal swab, and a urine sample, as well as a blood sample, and we’d be looking to get those results back right away.”

Like COVID, isolation and contact tracing to prevent spread is a high priority, and may require it before results return.

Transmission of measles is either droplet, such as sneezing and coughing or airborne.

There is also risk of infection through being contaminated by droplets on clothing and other items.

Symptoms of measles normally appear within a week to two weeks of contact and include:

  • high fever
  • cough
  • runny nose
  • watery eyes

A rash will also also appear within three to five days of the first symptoms, with children developing Koplik’s spots (small red spots with blue-white centres inside the mouth) before the rash starts.

Those who get infected can develop complications from the virus, including blindness, swelling of the brain – with the potential for brain damage, ear infections, severe breathing problems including pneumonia, severe diarrhea and dehydration.

Young-Hoon is also recommending anyone who hasn’t received a measles vaccine to do so as soon as possible adding one of the casualties of the pandemic was the lack of general vaccine programs geared towards younger populations.

“You need a vaccination coverage rate of over ninety-five percent in order to achieve herd immunity. So now there is clusters of people, or groups of people who may not be vaccinated and that can lead to the virus being spread.”

The NWHU is urging the following groups to get vaccinated:

  • Children aged 12 months to three years who’ve had no measles vaccines
  • Children aged four to 18 years who have no or only one dose of the MMR (Mumps, Measles and Rubella) or measles vaccine
  • Adults up to age 54 who have never had the vaccine or a measles infection
  • Adults who are health care workers or post-secondary students and have not had two doses of the MMR vaccine

Additionally, anyone six months and older traveling within the next four weeks should check with their healthcare providers to see if the MMR vaccine is recommended.

National polls have revealed mistrust in vaccines promoted by groups, organizations, even politicians in recent years have resulted in more and more Canadians opposing childhood vaccination.

However, Young-Hoon says the MMR vaccine has been used over the course of five decades, with data which looks at the vaccine and the side effects.

“It’s known to be a safe vaccine its known to be a very effective vaccine, after one dose of the vaccine you have eighty-five to ninety-five percent protection, and after two doses of the vaccine you have almost one-hundred percent protection.”

Common side effects she says, are similar to what you will experience from other vaccines, swelling or redness around the arm, fever, a rash or body aches, which tend to go away after a few days.

Chances of more serious side effects like an allergic reaction are, according to Young-Hoon, one in a million.