Preventative measures against measles must be taken seriously, official says

Published on April 21, 2014

Colchester County doesn’t have any recorded incidents of the measles despite an outbreak in other parts of the country, but people should still take preventative measures, said a spokesman for the local health authority.

Dr. Ryan Sommers, medical officer of health for the Colchester East Hants Health Authority, said that latest statistics show that Nova Scotia has not had a laboratory confirmed case of measles in more than 10 years.

However, an increased number of cases are springing up in western provinces such as British Columbia, Alberta and now Ontario that he largely attributes to global travel involving people from countries with existing outbreaks and in populations not vaccinated for religious reasons.

“We have a good record here with vaccines,” he said. “Most of the cases in Canada are from international sources.”

He said countries such as the Philippines, where its infrastructure has broken down since last year’s typhoon and vaccines may not be as readily or consistently available, have resulted in large outbreaks of measles.

People who also live in Canada and are not vaccinated, but travel to these countries with known measles outbreaks, also run the risk of carrying the virus back to Canada. One example of this would be the Netherlands.

Sommers said Canadian children receive a live vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella between the ages of 12 and 15 months. A second booster shot is given to children between four and six years.

Survey data shows that a large majority of Canadians have had the measles vaccine, although there have been questions raised in the past over their safety. 

Sommers said a small study from England in the mid-1990s linked vaccines as the cause of autism, but the study has been refuted many times in the medical world since this time.

“I know of 110 peer reviewed articles that have not shown an association between the measles vaccine and autism,” he said. “It's a safe vaccine. We have quality data to support this.” 

Sommers said the most commonly noted side effect after a vaccine is pain at the injection site or a low-grade fever for about 24 hours that can be controlled with over the counter medication.

However, he also noted that some parents are hesitant to vaccinate their children for a number of reasons.

“Today’s generation of parents don’t appreciate the impact these diseases can have on a child and their communities,” he said. “They have never seen mumps, diphtheria or polio and if you talk to their grandparents, they can tell you about the number of children they knew who needed iron lung machines to help them breath after contracting polio.”

With the exception of the annual flu shot, he said most vaccines don't usually change their makeup but sometimes there is a need for a booster shot. For example, recent outbreaks of whooping cough in certain areas of Canada, including New Brunswick, have some health officials and researchers rethinking how frequently these booster shots are needed.

Sommers said statistics shows they are effective in reducing infectious diseases. For example, in Toronto during from 1950 to 1954, there were 60,000 reported cases of the measles, but between 2007 and 2011 this number has dropped to 750. 

The large majority of these 750 cases can be traced back to international travel, he said, adding recently a travel alert was issued in Ontario because an infant infected with measles had exposed passengers on a flight from Abu Dhabi.

The Department of Health and Wellness recently sent a memo to all health-care professions in Nova Scotia about the increase in the number of measles cases in Canada.

“We are reminding people that prevention is the most important thing you can do to limit the risks from measles,” he said.

He said people born before the 1970s likely have a natural immunity to the virus because it was so prevalent during this time. Anyone born after the 1970s requires two doses of the measles vaccine. If a person is unsure, they contact their family doctor to confirm they were vaccinated or they can undergo a blood test to ensure they’re immune.

Sommers said measles is associated with a number of complications. About 80 per cent of the infected individual will not have any major problems, but serious complications can arise such as pneumonia, ear infections, seizures, or even death.